July 30, 2021, Peace Park at Cane Pky, Newmarket (Jerisha Grant-Hall)
“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
Fellow Newmarket residents, good morning to you all.
On behalf of the Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association, I bring greetings on the occasion of the commemoration of Emancipation Day. With me today are Board Directors Matthew Palomino and Alicia Katsavos. Also present, holding space and bearing witness are youth members Jaylah, Natacia and Alexis.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Wendat peoples. I also acknowledge that we convene this meeting upon the treaty lands of the First Nations of the Williams Treaty and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation as our closest community.
We also acknowledge that we are all Treaty peoples – including those who came here as settlers – as immigrants either in this generation or in generations past, and those who came here involuntarily, particularly as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. We must also recognize the fact that this colonial nation is founded in historic and ongoing dispossession of this land’s indigenous peoples, and African descendant peoples.
Today, we especially pay tribute to the ancestors of those of African and Indigenous origin and descent.
As an organization that centres on social justice, we feel it is critical to be informed on the past and the ongoing consequences of colonialism. We encourage everyone to learn about the history of these lands, and to support resistance here and across Turtle Island.
I give thanks for the land that nourishes us and enables us to live in communities. May we continue to aspire to nurture and care for this land and for each other.
August 1st is celebrated as Emancipation Day around the world and is the anniversary of British parliament’s decision to abolish slavery in its colonies in 1834. Abolition freed approximately 800,000 enslaved people of African descent throughout the British colonies.
In 1997, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated August 23rd as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
In 2013, the United Nations declared the Decade for the People of African Descent under the theme of recognition, justice and development.
On January 30, 2018 the Government of Canada officially recognized the Decade.
On March 24, 2021, the House of Commons unanimously passed a vote which was championed by Richmond Hill’s Member of Parliament (MP) Majid Jowhari to designate August 1st as Emancipation Day in Canada.
In April 2021, Nova Scotia introduced legislation to recognize the anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
Emancipation Day is significant not only because it represents the legal freedom granted to Africans in colonial Canada through the British parliament, but also because it represents the long history of resistance and struggle for equality, respect, dignity, human rights and economic freedom among African descendant people. In 1834, after two centuries of enslavement in colonial Canada, Africans legally owned their body, children and labour.
Emancipation also created a new order grounded in White supremacy and Black inferiority. There would later be segregation in education, housing, social life and immigration policies predicated on race that lasted well into the twentieth century with impacts lasting until today.
John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (now called Ontario), passed an Act Against Slavery in 1793 which ended the importation of enslaved Africans in Upper Canada when he learned that Chloe Cooley, an enslaved African woman, was captured and forcibly dragged in a boat across the Niagara River to be sold. It was the first legislation of its kind in the British Empire but not the first time an enslaved African resisted and fought against the brutish slave system.
Resistance started on the long walk in land to the slave ports in West Africa, continued on the ships, on land in Canada, the US and Caribbean and took many forms, both overt and covert. In 1791, two years before Simcoe’s legislation, Haiti began revolting against France to self-liberate becoming the first Black republic in the Americas in 1804. And long before the Haitian revolution, Marie- Joseph Angelique burned down old Montreal when trying to escape bondage in 1743. .
The one-sided story we are familiar with is that Canada was a conduit through which enslaved Africans in the US moved to freedom via the underground railroad. Many of us are unaware that many Black folks went back to the US and many left Canada for Sierra Leone because of racism and discrimination. Also, many of us are unaware that modern immigration policies that supported Black migration to Canada tied race to labour and included discriminatory practices which separated families and barred African descendant people from economic mobility. In 1950, for example, Queens University did not accept Black medical students.
Few Canadians know that the legacies of slavery impact the lives of Black people today. Fewer are aware that post-colonial Canadian society structurally marginalize and diminish Black people because of Canada’s history of slavery.
By and large, freedom was not given to Black people in the diaspora, it was taken. Power was not given to Black people in the diaspora, it was taken. Black people everywhere have resisted, persisted and survived. Black Canadians have achieved and contributed greatly to Canada’s economic growth, culture and politics even in the face of inequities and glaring oppression. Black Canadians represent Canada honorably in the Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, on the battlefield and in sports internationally.
Proclaiming Emancipation Day provides an opportunity for the Town of Newmarket to officially commemorate and recognize the contributions that Black Canadians make to building Canadian society, past and present.
It is important that we acknowledge Emancipation Day, federally, provincially and locally for a number of reasons, but especially for the following:
During the Atlantic slave trade, it is estimated that over 12 million African men, women and children were kidnapped, shackled and sold into one of the most brutal systems in human history. It is estimated that nearly 2 million Africans died in merciless conditions.
We need to continue to build on our efforts to create a more equitable society for African descendant people, and all other people of color in Newmarket, so that, unequivocally, we can all be free. This is how Newmarket can truly become a Town well beyond the ordinary.
The conditions under which Black Canadians live must allow them to become their full selves. This means equal access to housing, healthcare, education, food, employment and income.
Today we raise the Pan African (or Black liberation flag) in commemoration of Emancipation Day to celebrate freedom in Canada.