One hundred and eighty-eight years ago today, on August 1, 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act took effect, marking the legal end to slavery across the British Empire. We mark this occasion by celebrating Emancipation Day on August 1 each year across Ontario and Canada.
Today, we celebrate Emancipation Day knowing that our celebrations are laced with pain. While August 1, 1834 signified a formal end to the violence and dehumanization of slavery, it did not mark an end to white supremacy. In practice, many enslaved Africans who were granted only partial freedom and, despite the proclamation of the Slavery Abolition Act, Black people in Canada continued to face immense hardship and struggle in their daily lives. They faced discrimination in employment, housing, education, and many others areas of life, on the basis of their race.
Nearly two hundred years later, Black people in Canada continue to face discrimination in employment, housing, education, banking, health care, law enforcement, and elsewhere. As the Toronto Star reported last month, “Research conducted over the past two years has shown that in every wave of the pandemic, Ontario’s working poor, racialized and immigrant populations have not only suffered disproportionate rates of infection but also have had inequitable access to testing, treatment and vaccines.”
Similarly, a June 2022 report from the Toronto Police confirmed systemic racism in policing and revealed that, in Toronto, Black people are 2.2 times more likely to have an interaction with police than their white counterparts and 1.6 times more likely to have force used against them.
Today, as we reflect upon the Emancipation Day, we remember that August 1 is a beginning, not an end. It was an important step in combatting white supremacy but, clearly, as recent data indicates, not the end. There is much work to be done.
On this historic and momentous day, we encourage you to participate in events such as the Emancipation Day Event at Fort York, Freedom Train Ride, Emancipation Festival, and any other Emancipation Day celebrations and to reflect upon the Canada’s long history of anti-Black racism. Emancipation Day is not only a testament to how far we’ve come as a society but, also, a powerful reminder that we have much further to go. As the great Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “no one is free until we are all free.”