Trudeau acknowledges ‘painful history of slavery in Canada’ on Emancipation Day

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the “painful history of slavery in Canada” in his Emancipation Day message released on Monday, though that history hardly exists, and even then only by technicality.

“Today, on Emancipation Day, we acknowledge the painful history of slavery here in Canada and celebrate the strength and determination of Black communities, who fought – and continue to fight – for freedom, justice, and equality,” he wrote.

Officially designated last year by a unanimous vote in the House of Commons, the newly minted Emancipation Day falls on the day in 1834 that slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Canada did not become a country until July 1, 1867.

The abolishing of slavery by the empire freed over 800,000 enslaved Africans and their descendants. The Slavery Abolition Act, (1833) was an act of Parliament that abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada.

Britain used 40 percent of its national budget to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. Britain borrowed such a large sum of money for the Slavery Abolition Act that it wasn’t paid off until 2015.

“Although slavery was abolished nearly 200 years ago, its effects continue to live on today. The legacy of systemic anti-Black racism is still embedded throughout our society, including in our institutions. That’s why today, on Emancipation Day, we pay tribute to the countless changemakers who have worked hard to ensure all members of Black communities in Canada can fully participate in society – it’s thanks to their perseverance and resolve that we have made real progress toward creating a better future for all,” wrote Trudeau.

“Through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, the government continues to tackle all forms of racial discrimination in Canada, including anti-Black racism and systemic inequities, while working to design more effective legislation, policies, programs, and services that benefit all Canadians.

“We have also made important progress in developing a new, whole-of-government action plan to improve the well-being of Black communities, including through our commitment to implement a Black Justice Strategy to address inequities in the criminal justice system and our continued efforts to eliminate anti-Black hate and systemic racism in all its forms. This work is in line with the themes of recognition, justice, and development from the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent, which Canada recognized in 2018,” he continued.

“On Emancipation Day, I invite all Canadians to learn more about Canada’s history of enslavement and segregation, and its lasting impacts, which are still felt by members of Black communities today. We must acknowledge the truths of the past and recommit day after day to combatting anti-Black hate and systemic racism in order to build a better, more inclusive Canada for all,” he wrote.

Trudeau refers to a page on the Canadian government’s website, which states that Quebec historian Marcel Trudel estimated that there were approximately 4,200 enslaved people in the area of Canada known as Nouvelle France, and later in Upper and Lower Canada, between 1671 and 1831.

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