August 1, 2021 marks Canada and B.C.’s first officially recognized Emancipation Day, honouring the perseverance of Black and Indigenous people of colour (BIPOC) throughout the histories of slavery and colonial oppression in the country today considered Canada.
British Columbians should today reflect on how the experiences and contributions of Black Canadians continue to shape their province, said Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers and Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives.
On the same date in 1834, Great Britain officially abolished slavery across its colonies, resulting in the emancipation of 800,000 people across the Caribean, South Africa and early Canada. Between 1671 and 1831, 4,200 people were slaves across Upper and Lower Canada (modern Ontario and Quebec), according to historian Marcel Trudel. One-third were African while two-thirds were Indigenous.
Black people have been a part of British Columbia since the province’s founding as a colony in 1858, Singh said in a statement. After the colony’s founding, 800 had been invited by governor James Douglas to leave San Francisco and settle Vancouver Island.
“These pioneers enriched the political, religious and economic life of the colony,” reads a plaque at Shady Creek United Church in Saanich, unveiled after the San Francisco migration was deemed a National Historic Event by the government of Canada in 1997. It references prominent politician Mifflin Gibbs, founders of the Shady Creek Methodist Church Nancy and Charles Alexander, businessman John Deas and the group’s formation of one of the earliest colonial militia’s, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corp.
Despite the community’s history across the province, Singh said “the experience of Black British Columbians continues to be marginalized, their histories and contributions to this province little known or celebrated.” The province must commit, Singh said, to recognizing present wrongs of exclusion, segregation, displacement, surveillance and over-incarceration endured by Black communities. “We must and can do better,” she said. “Too many racialized communities continue to be targeted and scapegoated by the ignorant and bigoted among us.”
The government of B.C. is working on its first anti-racism act, Singh said, to replace the now 25-year-old Multiculturalism Act. Its goal will be to “make B.C. a safer, more welcoming and equitable province for everyone, regardless of their race, skin colour or faith,” Singh said. Public consultation for the anti-racism legislation is expected to begin in the fall of 2022, according to the government of B.C.’s website.
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