Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to mark the bicentenary of one of the great achievements in the fight for freedom and human dignity, the abolition of the slave trade in Canada and throughout the British Empire.
Two hundred years ago, on March 25, 1807, King George III granted royal assent to the act for the abolition of the slave trade, which read as follows:
Be it therefore enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty.... That... the African Slave Trade, and...all manner of dealing and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practiced or carried on, in, at, to or from any Part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be, and the same is hereby utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful;
These words were the beginning of the end for the vile practice of the African slave trade, a practice that would be unthinkable today.
For three hundred years, millions of African men, women and children were kidnapped from their homes and families, transported across the Atlantic in horrible conditions and then sold into a life of duress and misery across the Americas.
It is impossible to say how many thousands died on this journey due to illness, mistreatment and even murder since those believed to be too weak to survive the voyage were simply thrown overboard.
Today we celebrate the victory of those brave abolitionists who overcame overwhelming opposition to call a nation and an empire to her conscience.
Foremost among those heroes of human dignity was the great William Wilberforce whose lifetime struggle against the evil of slavery did not stop with the adoption of the act we celebrate today, but continued to his deathbed in 1833 when he learned that Parliament had adopted his bill abolishing slavery altogether.
To this day, Wilberforce and his passion for speaking truth to power remains a model for all of us as parliamentarians.
On this day we should also call to mind the leadership of Canadians in the struggle against slavery, foremost amongst whom was Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe who in 1793 persuaded the legislature of Upper Canada to pass the first meaningful restrictions on slavery in the British Empire.
We also recall those who made Canada the North Star of the underground railroad for tens of thousands who escaped American bondage to come to British North America, beginning with the thousands of black Loyalists who helped to settle Nova Scotia.
Finally, we should remember the courageous role of Canadian sailors in the Royal Navy, many based out of Halifax Harbour, who, at great risk to themselves, helped to enforce the ban on the African slave trade throughout the 19th century.
While we celebrate the bicentenary of these great achievements, we must acknowledge that unjust racial discrimination is one of the sad vestiges of slavery and we must reaffirm our dedication to combating such racism in all of its forms. The achievements of great Canadians, such as His Honour Lincoln Alexander and, indeed, of Her Excellency the Governor General, demonstrate that Canada has met this challenge in so many ways. Canada is truly a land of hope and equality of opportunity and a refuge for the oppressed.
Let us honour the memory of the abolitionists by fighting against slavery and the conditions similar to slavery, which continue to exist even today.
Millions of individuals throughout the world do not enjoy personal freedom when they live in conditions of forced labour or sexual slavery, among others.
The government is dedicated to acting against the vile practice of human trafficking here in Canada. In this regard, I would like to commend the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for its recent report on human trafficking entitled, “Turning Outrage Into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada”.
Today, 200 years later, let us remember the glorious work of William Wilberforce and his colleagues, brave men and women, who were willing to take on a vile and odious industry and to bring the beginning of freedom to millions of people of African origin who had so unjustly been deprived of it.