CUPE Ontario is proud to observe August 1 as National Emancipation Day. We mark it as a day of reflection on the meaning of freedom and liberation for enslaved people, as well as a joyous celebration of the resilience and strength of Black communities in Ontario and around the world.

The day commemorates the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which came into effect on August 1, 1834 and which marked the legal end to enslavement throughout most of the British Empire, including Canada. Emancipation Day also falls close to Simcoe Day, which commemorates John Graves Simcoe. As Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario), he passed the first anti-enslavement legislation in the British Empire, the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada.

With its history of resistance and solidarity, the joyous celebration that is Carnival also takes place this week. Carnival itself is a celebration of emancipation and, as a union, we honour this history with our own support for and participation in this amazing cultural phenomenon. Members of CUPE Ontario will take part in the Carnival Grand Parade in Toronto on August 5 and  CUPE Ontario has incorporated Carnival into the work of its Racial Justice Committee through its sponsorship/partnership with EPIC (Energy, Passion, Imagination, Culture) Carnival Experience.  This year’s theme is “Passion.”

Integrating these events into our work and play is foundational to CUPE Ontario’s actions to fight racism, oppression, and white supremacy. Anti-racism and anti-oppression work taken on through our Anti-Racism Organizational Action Plan (AROAP) and Women in Leadership Development (WILD). Through this work, we tackle the multi-generational harms caused by enslavement.

For we can never deny that racism runs deep in Canadian society or that the history of enslavement in Canada is frequently minimized or even deliberately swept under the rug. Emancipation Day is an occasion to remind ourselves, collectively, that systemic racism that continues to oppress Black communities and Black folks people living in Canada.

A recent example of this shameful legacy of racism was evident on the streets of Toronto a few weeks ago, as Black African refugees were left to sleep outside, night after night, because of a lack of decent housing and shelter supports; government at all levels ignored their needs. Provincially, Doug Ford’s Conservatives showed no interest in addressing the public health crisis in Black communities during the COVID pandemic, just as they continue to ignore the over-policing of Black people today.

As a union, however, CUPE Ontario will continue to confront and combat the multiple forms of discrimination that continue to oppress Black people and will continue to educate ourselves about the true meaning of Emancipation.

This August 1, we urge CUPE members to demonstrate solidarity by learning more about the history of Emancipation Day and our union’s work in combating anti-Black Racism. We invite you to watch (or watch again) our 2022 webinar, The History of Carnival; it provides important context to Emancipation Day and offers inspiration for continuing the work still needed to fulfil its promise.