Emancipation Day falls on B.C. Day in British Columbia

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      Today, there are two reasons for British Columbians to celebrate and reflect on the past.

      First off, it's B.C. Day, which falls on the first Monday in August.

      It was created by the province's first NDP premier, Dave Barrett, to provide a day off work in August.

      “B.C. Day is a time to celebrate this magnificent place we call home," Premier John Horgan said in a statement.

      “Our province is blessed with a stunning natural beauty that attracts visitors from around the world," he continued. "We also enjoy the bounty of natural resources. We have so much to be grateful for. As stunning as our province is, it is the people who call B.C. home who make it such a special place."

      It's also Emancipation Day, which brought forth a statement by Rachna Singh, B.C.'s parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives.

      “Emancipation Day is an opportunity to learn about slavery in Canada and recognize African-Canadian history as part of Canada’s story," Singh said in a separate news release. “The Slavery Abolition Act, which put an end to slavery across the British Empire, came into effect on Aug. 1, 1834. More than 4,000 people were enslaved in what is now known as Canada between 1671 and 1834."

      She pointed out that in 1858, about 800 Black settlers came to B.C.

      This came at the invitation of the first colonial governor, Sir James Douglas, whose mother has African ancestry. It came a year after the notorious Dred Scott decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, which stated that right to American citizenship was not available for people of African ancestry even if they were free.

      Douglas ensured that if they moved here, they could vote. And in 1866, one of the Black immigrants, Mifflin Gibbs, was elected to Victoria city council.

      Their stories were told in Crawford Kilian's book, Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia.

      “Many Black British Columbians experienced hardships, discrimination and marginalization for generations to come," Singh continued. "We can no longer turn a blind eye to these long-standing inequities."

      She noted that her government has introduced the Anti-Racism Data Act, which "will shine a light on the systemic barriers facing Indigenous, Black and people of colour so that, together, we can make government programs and services work better for more people".

      “We are also working to introduce the broader anti-racism act next year, which will help make B.C. a safer, more welcoming and equitable province for everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity or faith," Singh added. "We’re also developing an anti-racism action plan for kindergarten to Grade 12, to improve learning experiences for racialized students and equip teachers with the tools to better identify and address systemic barriers for Indigenous, Black and students of colour in our education system."

      On March 24, 2021, the House of Commons designated August 1 as Emancipation Day. 

      “Although slavery was abolished nearly 200 years ago, its effects continue to live on today," Prime MInister Justin Trudeau said in a statement today.

      "The legacy of systemic anti-Black racism is still embedded throughout our society, including in our institutions," he added. "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."