Governments must honour Emancipation Day by addressing systemic racism

July 29, 2021

Canada’s unions are calling on governments at every level to mark Canada’s first national recognition of Emancipation Day by addressing systemic racism in employment experienced by Black workers. Emancipation Day has been observed in Ontario since 2008, but this year it will be commemorated across Canada for the first time.

Over a year into the pandemic and one year after the start of global uprisings against police violence, Black communities are still struggling. The pandemic disproportionately impacted Black communities, while the prevalent issues of police violence, over-policing and surveillance persist.

“While we have come a long way, the inequities Black workers and communities faced historically still reverberate and persist to this day,” said Bea Bruske, CLC President. “Black workers continue to experience barriers in all aspects of work, from hiring, to advancement, to retention and workplace supports.”

The CLC welcomed the federal budget announcement of increased spending to counter the uneven impacts of the pandemic, which included funding for Black communities, a strategy for the collection of race-based data, and a national child care system.

However, Black workers need more support when it comes to addressing systemic barriers to equity, and strengthening the Employment Equity Act is an important way to address the disparities Black workers face. Canada’s unions are once again urging the government to ensure Black communities are meaningfully and properly consulted in its efforts to modernize the Employment Equity Act. This process should also include bargaining agents who represent Black workers in the workplace.

“Recognition of Emancipation Day includes reckoning with the legacy and effects of structural racism and addressing the systemic failures that have resulted in Black workers experiencing a multigenerational wage gap, forcing many to work in dangerous conditions, for low wages, with few protections,” said Larry Rousseau, CLC Executive Vice-President.

This legacy of structural racism includes the unjust history of Black workers within the labour movement, where societal inequities were replicated. Black workers were barred from receiving the same protections as white workers and faced limited employment opportunities, regardless of qualifications or educational achievements.

Emancipation Day recognizes the abolition of slavery in Canada and other British colonies on August 1,1834, and the long and ongoing struggles against racism, oppression and discrimination faced by Black communities in Canada. This day honours the history and legacy of Black people, while acknowledging and confronting Canada’s role in the slave trade and its history of institutional anti-Black racism.

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