December 9th, 2020
MPs renew push to designate Aug. 1 ‘Emancipation Day’Headline
MPs from multiple parties are making a renewed push to get the federal government to recognize Aug. 1 as “Emancipation Day.”
That day, in 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force, ushering in the end of slavery throughout the British Empire. It included Canada, where slavery had existed for more than 200 years, and there were still a small number of enslaved persons.
Emancipation Day has been increasingly observed in countries in the Western hemisphere with histories of slavery. In Canada, local events are held commemorating its abolition and Black people’s accomplishments and struggle against racism. However, the day is not formally recognized by the federal government.
On Tuesday evening, debate occurred on a private member’s motion in the House of Commons presented by Liberal MP Majid Jowhari to affirm the elected body’s support for designation at the national level.
The motion, which also asks the House to recognize the existence of slavery in British North America prior to 1834, is seconded by fellow Liberal Greg Fergus, Green MP Paul Manly and Conservative MP Alex Ruff.
Debate included a passionate speech from NDP MP Matthew Green that touched on his family’s heritage, how the telling of history of enslavement is often flawed, and the need for more action from the Liberal government to fight racism.
Green, who was elected in 2019, told the chamber that he is often asked where he or his parents are from, only for him to respond that he is Canadian and his family go back six generations. His ancestors escaped enslavement in the U.S. and became one of the earliest families to settle in the Owen Sound area. “Indeed, I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams,” he said. Green also gave a nod at the end of the speech to “present-day abolitionists,” such as those who rallied around the Black Lives Matter movement. Green told iPolitics on Wednesday that designating Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day would be a “recognition of our place in the history of Canada.” He said the Liberal government should also apologize for Canada’s role in slavery, something the United Nations called on Ottawa to do in 2017.
That year, a UN Human Rights Council report concluded that systemic discrimination Black Canadians experience today is linked to the history of slavery. At the top of its list of recommendations is for an apology and to consider providing reparations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t commit to an apology when asked by a reporter in June, at a time when anti-Black racism demonstrations were ongoing in much of the Western world.
If the motion recommending designation is passed, the federal government can choose to issue statements marking the occasion each year or simply ignore the request.
Jowhari, who tabled a private member’s bill on the matter in the last Parliament, told iPolitics that he hopes the motion will be voted on in February or March. As with almost all private members’ business, it faces the risk of delays due to government matters being prioritized.
He said recognizing Aug. 1 would help Canada better acknowledge historic wrongs directed toward Black Canadians and offer a springboard for new anti-racism action.
This article was written by Jolson Lim and originally appeared in iPolitics.ca. You can read the article in it's entirety at this link.