Dear colleagues and friends,
On March 24, 2021, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada. It marks August 1, 1834, when The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force across almost all of the British Empire, with some exceptions.
Emancipation Day celebrates the strength and perseverance of Black communities in Canada. It is a day to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and discrimination, which has roots in slavery.
The Portuguese, in the 16th century, were the first to transport slaves from West Africa across the Atlantic. In 1526, they completed the first transatlantic slave voyage to Brazil, and other Europeans soon followed. Ship owners regarded the slaves as cargo to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, and sold to work on coffee, tobacco, cocoa, sugar, and cotton plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, the construction industry, cutting timber for ships, as skilled labour, and as domestic servants.
By the late 18th century, the anti-slavery movement to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire had begun, with the “Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade” established in 1787. The Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, tabled the Act Against Slavery in 1793. Passed by the local Legislative Assembly, it was the first legislation to outlaw the slave trade in a part of the British Empire.
During the Christmas holiday of 1831, a large-scale slave revolt, known as the Baptist War, broke out in Jamaica. It was organised originally as a peaceful strike by the Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe. The rebellion was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy and the British garrison. Because of significant loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. The results of these inquiries contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies. Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840.
The Act provided for payments to slave-owners. The British government raised £20 million to pay out for the loss of the slaves as business assets to the registered owners of the freed slaves. In 1833, £20 million amounted to 40% of the Treasury's annual income or approximately 5% of British GDP at the time.
The Act specifically excluded "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), or to the Island of Saint Helena." These exceptions were eliminated by the Indian Slavery Act, 1843 which prohibited Company employees from owning, or dealing in slaves, along with granting limited protection under the law, that included the ability for a slave to own, transfer or inherit property.
Emancipation Day is an opportunity to learn about the history of slavery and commit to stand up together against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes in our workplaces, schools, society, and online. Be a human rights champion, fight racism and hate, and stand up for human rights!
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, or anyone of your PIPSC Stewards, if you have questions, suggestions or comments to share.
Stay safe, stay well!
President, National Consultation Team