Today we celebrate Emancipation Day, which marks the legal abolition of slavery in Canada on August 1, 1834. Ordinarily, we would be marking Emancipation Day at Carnival, which is both a celebration of Caribbean culture and a symbol of resistance against oppression. But even though we need to practice social distancing this year, Emancipation Day is all the more poignant considering the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and the global movement to reaffirm that Black Lives Matter.

The historical fact of slavery in Canada is often forgotten or minimized. Emancipation Day is an opportunity to remember the deeply racist roots of a system that continues to oppress Black people. Contrary to claims that Canada has a better record than the United States, on Emancipation Day we remember that Canadian racism is systemic, institutional, and deeply engrained in society.

Over-policing and police violence towards Black people are commonplace in our province and in our country. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has found that a Black person in Toronto is nearly 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal shooting by law enforcement. Police are still largely free to card Black people while investigating crimes or during traffic stops—to this day there is no federal ban on racial profiling. Black people remain overrepresented in our prison system and underrepresented in economic, social, and political life.

This shameful track record on racism has only worsened under the Ford Conservatives, who cut four subcommittees of the Anti-Racism Directorate, halted plans to increase oversight of Ontario police, and have failed to move to collect race-based pandemic data despite the obviously disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on Black communities.

CUPE Ontario has joined a chorus of voices calling for the Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis. We need to name what happens to Black people when it comes to policing, workplace discrimination, and more as a public health crisis requiring urgent and comprehensive action.

Our next steps to eradicate anti-Black racism must be to acknowledge that it is as prevalent here in Canada as it is in other countries. Much like when Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin casually murdered George Floyd while his pleadings went ignored, Toronto Police entered the home of 29-year old Regis Korchinski-Paquet—an Afro-Indigenous woman—leading to her body falling 24 floors below, and a Peel Regional Police officer shot and killed 26-year old D’Andre Campbell in April.

CUPE Ontario shares in the collective grief and rage felt across Black communities due to these persistent injustices. Emancipation Day is an opportunity to acknowledge anti-Black racism, the devastating legacy of enslavement and colonization in Canada, and to continue working towards reconciliation and reparations. As a union representing more than 280,000 workers across Ontario, we are here to challenge the status quo and amplify the voices of workers, particularly those who are most often marginalized, as we fight anti-Black racism everywhere.

In Solidarity,

Fred Hahn

Candace Rennick