December 15th, 2020
Parliament to mark Emancipation Day and a day of Truth and Reconciliation
While it grapples with the huge and related issues of a pandemic, an economy in need of massive transformation, and climate change, the Canadian Parliament is considering two seemingly small measures that won't change anybody's life, but could have considerable symbolic significance.
The first is part of the government's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which the Harper Conservative government set up in 2008 to address the horror of Canada's residential school system for Indigenous children.
Readers might remember that when the commission reported in 2015, the Liberal party, then in third place in Parliament, promised to implement every single one of its 94 calls to action.
Five years on we're nowhere near that goal.
But Parliament now has before it a bill that responds to one of the commission's calls, call #80, to be exact. It asks the government to establish "as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process."
The second measure deals with another, long-ignored part of Canadian history, the institution of slavery.
To the extent we Canadians have thought about the "peculiar institution" (a 19th-century American euphemism for slavery), it was to note that Canada was the terminal point of the underground railroad to freedom for thousands of enslaved Black people.
We Canadians have rarely talked about the two centuries during which slavery existed in this country.
Liberal MP Majid Jowhari has proposed a resolution that could help correct that omission. It would officially recognize "August 1, the day in 1834 on which the British Parliament abolished slavery throughout the empire, as Emancipation Day, and also officially recognize that, prior to that date, slavery existed in the territory that would become Canada."
Black MP frequently asked: "Where are you from?"
As the residential school bill was personal to Rachel Blaney, so was the Emancipation Day bill to Matthew Green, an NDP member for a Hamilton riding and one of a handful of African-Canadian MPs.
"Like many Black and racialized Canadians, I am often asked the question, 'Where are you from?' When I share with them that I am Canadian, the next question I am asked is, 'But what about your parents?' I tell them they are Canadian, and they ask about my grandparents. I share with them that they are Canadian. My people go back here six generations …" Green then talked about the crucial difference between being a slave and being a person forced into slavery. "It is true that as a young person I grew up in our education system, and I would have shared that I am the descendant of runaway slaves. Of course, that is false. The context is very problematic because they were not slaves, they were people who were enslaved … These were a people who survived the transatlantic slave trade and who found themselves in one of the most wretched conditions of humanity, the deepest evil of the United States of America, at that time, in those settlements, yet they survived. They were the ones who risked everything in following those footpaths to get to freedom, and they are the ones who will teach us about emancipation today."
Both national memory measures -- one on residential schools, the other on the abolition of slavery -- are expected to easily pass the House of Commons, unamended. They will then go to the Senate, which will take them up some time in the New Year. The only barrier to their becoming law could be a spring 2021 election.
That's a pretty big barrier, when you consider that Ottawa is full of fevered election talk these days.
Amidst the inevitable political jockeying for advantage that will happen over the next four to six months, the politicians should not forget their pledge to enact and make real both of these long-promised measures.
This article originally appeared on Rabble.ca and was written by Karl Nerenberg. You can read this article in it's entirety by clicking on this link.