N.S. Senator pushes for Emancipation Day to be nationally recognized

When it comes to healing multi-generational trauma endured by African Canadians to this day, Canadian Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard says it’s crucial to be conscious of Canada’s role in slavery.

“Acknowledging this part and Canada’s role in this history, means that we begin a process of repair, we begin a process of redress, we begin a process of fully acknowledging the multi-generational harms caused by slavery, and the institutionalized, and systemic racism in this country,” said Bernard, an independent senator from East Preston, Nova Scotia.

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Sen. Bernard is in the process of harnessing the power of political will to shift toward a state where the entire country collectively recognizes Emancipation Day on Aug. 1.

In 2008, Ontario became the only province to pass legislation proclaiming Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day.

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Trayvone Clayton speaks to a crowd of hundreds during an anti-Black racism rally in Halifax on June 1. Global Halifax

Sen. Bernard wants the rest of Canada to join Ontario in marking this significant day in African Canadian history.

“Emancipation Day marks the abolition, the end of slavery in Canada, and it’s really important that we acknowledge this day because in doing so, we’re acknowledging the reality that slavery existed in Canada, (as) one of the British colonies.

“And, until we do that, we’re really dismissing that part of Canada’s history and the history of slavery, the history of marginalization that followed slavery,” Sen. Bernard said.

Sen. Bernard’s Emancipation Day Bill states that, “in 1834, the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed for the British colonies, which freed approximately 800,000 enslaved Africans.”

Sen. Bernard says this Aug. 1 will mark 186 years since the end of slavery in Canada.

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While that may come as a surprise to some Canadians, organizers of the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival in Ontario have been fueling conversations around the significance of Emancipation Day for more than a century.

“As a simple picnic, (the festival) was started 158 years ago. So, as I like to say, we are older than Canada,” said Dorothy Abbott, a board member with the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival and the Ontario Black History Society.

“Our ancestors, the people that settled in Owen Sound, are all the descendants of formerly enslaved people.”

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As part of the 35th Africville Reunion Tour in 2018, members of the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival and the Ontario Black History Society, travelled to Nova Scotia to learn more about their shared history. Submitted/Dorothy Abbott

Leading up to Aug. 1, there are several education opportunities the general public can participate in virtually.

One is a webinar that is part of the preparation for the 186th Emancipation Day, called Freedom Delayed is Justice Denied.

The webinar includes a panel discussion, hosted by Sen. Bernard and Majid Jowhari, MP for Richmond Hill.

The public can register for the virtual discussion that takes place on July 23 and will include conversations on racial justice.

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Bernard says these education opportunities are all part of the necessary work the broader community needs to do in understanding how multi-generational trauma is still experienced today.

“Part of what we want to make sure people understand is that, although the world is just now realizing recognizing anti-Black racism, we’ve been living with it for generations,” she said.

OmiSoore Dryden BLM rally
OmiSoore Dryden, a Black queer femme and James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, harnesses the crowd’s attention during a Black Lives Matter rally in Halifax. Global Halifax

Abbott echos that statement, adding that learning about the history of Black enslavement in Canada is a key part of the healing journey.

“We want everyone to understand our history, and understand where we’re coming from, and appreciate of the pain that people have been experiencing for years. Which, in the last few months has come pouring out of us.”

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