After many years of advocacy, Canada marked its first official Emancipation Day holiday today, August 1, 2021. This holiday commemorates the signing of the Slavery Abolition Act in the UK on August 1, 1834. Prior to that, slavery had been a legal practice in the UK and UK colonies, including Canada, where it was a common practice throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. Both African and Indigenous people were enslaved in the colonies that would eventually become Canada during this time.
The signing of the Slavery Abolition Act was both a practical and symbolic step forward in the fight for equality for all people, particularly minorities who had been exploited and oppressed in Canada for centuries. Today’s new holiday is a further step toward acknowledging the past crimes and atrocities that were perpetrated in Canada, as a proactive measure to ensure that nothing of this sort ever happens again. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Today, we recommit ourselves to fighting anti-Black racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination, and related intolerance faced by people of African descent in Canada.”
While this is another important step forward for Canada, it is not the end of the campaign for equality and social justice. The reality is that many minority groups in our country still suffer at the hands of overt and systemic bigotry, including African-Canadians, Indigenous people, other racial and cultural minorities, and even women. It has been a long, slow journey toward equality, and we still have a long way to go.
As the owner of a business and the president of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), I see daily examples of people who are struggling for equal treatment, whether in a business setting or society at large. Our work at the BBPA centers around eliminating road blocks to success for Black entrepreneurs, many of which are in place due to decades of systemic racist policies that were established during or shortly after the slavery era in our country. While it is admirable that we have begun to acknowledge past inequalities and oppression, it is important that we further this work going forward. While slavery may have been abolished in Canada nearly two centuries ago, inequality and various trappings of corporate slavery remain pervasive. Let’s use today’s holiday as motivation to become better people and a better country, and continue the fight for equality for all.