House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was death.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

moved:

That the House recognize that: (a) the British Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire as of August 1, 1834; (b) slavery existed in British North America prior to its abolition in 1834; (c) abolitionists and others who struggled against slavery, including those who arrived in Upper and Lower Canada by the Underground Railroad, have historically celebrated August 1 as Emancipation Day; (d) the Government of Canada announced on January 30, 2018, that it would officially recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent to highlight the important contributions that people of African descent have made to Canadian society, and to provide a platform for confronting anti-Black racism; and (e) the heritage of Canada’s people of African descent and the contributions they have made and continue to make to Canada; and that, in the opinion of the House, the government should designate August 1 of every year as “Emancipation Day” in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to my motion, Motion No. 36, which would have the House formerly recognize August 1 as emancipation day and in turn maintain our government's commitment to highlight the contributions people of African descent have made to Canadian society and continue to combat anti-Black racism today. This motion builds on the incredible work done by Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard with Bill S-255 in the last session of Parliament.

Motion No. 36 on emancipation day, when passed, would have Parliament officially recognize the abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834, in the British empire, including British North America, what we know as present day Canada; the role of British colonies, including our nation, in participating in the transatlantic slave trade and the abolitionists who laid the ground work for change and defied the norms of the time; the history of emancipation day, including the many untold stories and unsung achievements of Black Canadians in Canadian society; and address anti-Black racism in the context of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent and for the purpose of achieving our goal of a just, inclusive and equal society.

In 1807, the British Parliament voted to end the transatlantic slave trade. On August 1, 1834, chattel slavery was abolished across the British empire and all its commonwealth territories, including Canada. This was a landmark victory for Black communities across the British empire and especially for the Black Canadians who organized, rallied and fought for this legislation. The day was one of celebration among Black Canadians who expressed their joy at being able to live freely and independently, though it also stood as an important occasion to reflect on the struggle it took to achieve that freedom.

Emancipation day allows for Canadians of African and Caribbean descent to connect through shared experiences and gives an opportunity to pass on the stories of their enslaved ancestors, whose names and experiences would otherwise not be recounted or honoured in any history book of that time.

World recognition of emancipation day is at the heart of this motion and one of the primary pillars in education and awareness that should be highlighted. This summer, in the weeks leading up to emancipation day, I had the opportunity to consult with various advocacy groups regarding this motion. I want to highlight an emancipation day panel I attended with notable Black scholars in Canada, including the Hon. Jean Augustine, the first female Black Canadian member of Parliament.

One of the key highlights I took from this event was the importance of education. The primary purpose of this motion is to continue to educate our community on Canada's history and culture as well as shed light on part of our history that we have not always acknowledged. It also presents us with a unique opportunity to learn about important Canadian Black historical figures, community leaders and trailblazers.

The history of emancipation day goes beyond the abolition of the slave trade. It should highlight the work of numerous Black scholars, activists and change-makers. We specifically want to acknowledge historic events like the underground railroad, where tens of thousands of African Canadians and African Americans bravely escaped slavery in the south and sought refuge in Canada from 1850 to 1860. We want to recognize the influential Black Canadian abolitionists and cultural leaders like Mary Ann Shadd, the first female newspaper publisher in Canada and first Black female publisher in North America.

Ms. Shad founded and ran the The Provincial Freeman from 1853 to 1860 and was a fierce anti-slavery activist. She used her platform to showcase Black culture and explored political and human rights issues, such as abolition, women's rights and the right to vote. She later went on to establish a non-segregated school in the town of Windsor.

I should recognize Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotia businesswoman who was arrested in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a theatre. She was later charged with tax fraud. This incident became a catalyst for change as she refused to succumb to the racist policies of her time. Her case sparked a civil rights movement in Nova Scotia and inspired a generation of Black Nova Scotians and Canadians to fight for justice and human rights.

We must also acknowledge the Black Canadians who played a pivotal role in Canada's effort during World War I. Despite facing discrimination and barriers to enter into the armed forces, a significant group of Black men dedicated themselves to the war effort and served in multiple combat and support roles.

For example, we should honour the No. 2 Construction Battalion, an all-Black military unit that dug trenches, diffused land mines, stocked ammunition and removed wounded soldiers from the battlefield. The contribution of the No. 2 Battalion was not recognized until much later in the war.

In the words of Senator Bernard, “Emancipation Day served as an instrument to pass on the history and the memory of those who went before them and as a beacon for taking up the responsibility to carry on from where their ancestors left off.”

Since immigrating to Canada, I have been lucky to live in many diverse and multicultural ridings like Richmond Hill. However, I have seen and experienced the effects of racism, prejudice and discrimination in my daily life. I know that I can never know the struggle of Black Canadians in our society today, but it is our duty as allies to emphasize and to continue to educate ourselves on issues that continue to impact Black communities across the world and in our country of Canada.

Throughout the month of July, my office created a social media campaign entitled “We Recognize”. This online campaign highlighted the stories of Black Canadians throughout history who have made important contributions to our society; Canadians whose stories were not told in our history books or in our school classrooms.

My hope is that this motion will be the first step in acknowledging the gaps in our education system. It can encourage a greater focus on Black history and the inclusion of Black Canadian stories in history and social studies classes.

Emancipation day is a time for all Canadians to look inward and unlearn the biases and behaviours associated with the history of slavery that have resulted in the under-representation of Black Canadians in history books, school curriculums, elected positions and public service. It also serves as an opportunity for us to dismantle the remnants of institutionalized racism, discrimination and the overrepresentation of Black Canadians in correctional facilities.

Recognizing emancipation day gives Canadians the opportunity to confront this reality and to advocate for greater diversity, inclusion and opportunity.

I want to acknowledge the support that this motion has received from my colleague, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard. Senator Bernard's guidance has been essential in allowing me to approach this motion with the care and nuance it required. Senator Bernard has been advocating extensively for this cause and continues to be a fierce advocate for Black communities across our country.

I also want to thank the member for Hull—Aylmer, the chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, and the members of the all-party parliamentary Black caucus for their support with this cause.

I want to commend the valuable insight from community voices, like Rosemary Sadlier from the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Ontario Black History Society and the Canadian Association of Social Workers. Their guidance and assistance were key to bringing visibility to this issue.

In honour of emancipation day and the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, I am calling on all Canadians to come together to confront our nation's history with racism as well as emancipation, so we can achieve better outcomes and representation for people who are marginalized, a label which disproportionately includes Black Canadians as well as first nations, Métis and Inuit people.

As for myself, I continue to advocate for a more inclusive, culturally aware and diverse society in which emancipation day and ancestry are represented and embodied in our schools and our institutions.

It is my sincere hope that all Canadians, especially the members of the House, will join me in exploring our nation's history and next August take part in their communities' emancipation day celebration. I ask members to please support Motion No. 36.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, what a historic moment it is. I thank the hon. member for Richmond Hill for lifting up the important work of the always honourable Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard.

We heard in his remarks that this is indeed a first step. It is a symbolic one, but a first step in dismantling anti-Black racism. What would the hon. member prioritize, with the opportunity that his government has, on second steps in order to dismantle anti-Black racism?

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and I have had an opportunity to work together at the OGGO committee, but, most important, today. As the hon. member mentioned, this is the first step. It is the first step in a journey. This journey is no different than any other journeys on which our country is embarking. Acknowledgement is the first step. I hope that when it is passed, this acknowledgement will be behind us.

As I said, it is upon us and upon the government to ensure we take the next step. The next step could be investment and generating awareness in other programs, whether social or educational programs, that would support the motion.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's speech. I want to congratulate him for moving this motion. I think there is consensus on this.

Frankly, I was moved by the personal experiences that he shared with us. He himself has experienced racism. He obviously has a deep understanding of this cause. My question is simple.

Could our hon. colleague tell us what would be the benefits of this motion if it were adopted in the House?

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer is obvious. The first step in any journey or reconciliation is acknowledgement and acceptance. The benefit is that it is now behind us and we can take the next step.

As I said, my focus remains on filling one of the gaps that I see, which is in education and ensuring that the depth of the contribution of African Canadians, especially to our country, is properly reflected and also brings an understanding within our country and makes our country much safer for visible minorities to grow and find their rightful place in this community.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour just to ask a question of the hon. member and thank him for bringing this motion forward, and put on the record that the Green Party of Canada supports unequivocally recognition of Emancipation Day. It is recognized in many countries around the world. I am particularly pleased to note our historic breakthrough this year that our new leader, Annamie Paul, is the first Black woman leader of any federal political party in Canada.

What more can we do as individual members of Parliament? We know that private members' bills and motions can take their time to wend their way through the House. How do we make sure this becomes law before the end of this Parliament?

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to hear that we are getting unanimous support across the House for this motion. It speaks to the significance of this motion. As individuals, we can make sure that we become the champion for the cause of anti-racism, reach out to organizations that are in our communities and reach out to those who are vulnerable and are struggling, and support them. In the House, we can make sure that we vote in support of the motion to pass second reading.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I just want to compliment my colleague for the fantastic work he has already accomplished by getting the resolution to the floor.

Can he add some further thoughts on how important it is for education to be a part of this going forward?

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe when it becomes part of our education curriculum, then it is actually documented and in the books. It could be used as a base for us to be able to pass along that knowledge in a structured way. To that effect, that is why I picked education and awareness as what I believe the next step for us in this journey should be.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Alex Ruff Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to start my remarks a little differently. I am going to try to tell a bit of a story.

Let us picture ourselves as my seven-year-old daughter and living in the southern United States in the 1830s. Life is not good. We utilize what was then known as the Underground Railway and make our way up. It is not a simple journey where people just grab a ticket, hop on the train and off they go. It is done at night. It is done, quite frequently, by foot. People need to use code words and travel constantly in fear that they may be recaptured and put back into slavery. Eventually, though, we make it to the Canadian border, or Upper Canada as it was known then, and cross that border. We feel that inspiration of hope. We know we are somewhere safer but we do not stop quite yet. We keep on going and travel to the most northern terminal of the Underground Railway, the village as Sydenham, now known as Owen Sound which, I am proud to say, is in my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

The only reason my daughter has to make that escape is because she happens to be of colour. It is sad, but I am glad that Canada has such a rich history and my riding has such a rich history in abolishing slavery. That Underground Railway helped free 30,000 to 40,000 slaves during its time of operation. It offered that beacon of hope. It gave people of Black descent an opportunity to settle, raise their families and find work. Again, it makes me so proud to come from the riding.

I want to thank the member for Richmond Hill for bringing forward this motion, Motion No. 36, and continue not what Senator Bernard started but actually what the Hon. Deepak Obhrai brought forward in this House in 1999, 21 years ago, as a private member's bill, Bill C-282. It was then brought forward within the Senate, a couple of years ago by the good senator. She tried to get it passed, but unfortunately the bill was not passed before Parliament broke. Fortunately, the member for Richmond Hill has brought it forward. I agree with his earlier comments; I am confident this motion will pass with unanimous consent in the House, when we get there.

My riding has some unique contributions that people of Black or African descent have made to this great country. This speaks to the motion as well. In the southernmost part of my riding, I have the town of Priceville. I did not know until I was preparing for this speech that it is named after Colonel Price. Colonel Price happened to be of Black descent, something I did not know. It just speaks again to the rich contributions Black people have made to Canada, throughout our history.

As well, in my own riding going back to 1993 to 2004, a former MP was Ovid Jackson. Ovid Jackson made national news at the time because while I come from a riding that is not as ethnically diverse as some of our ridings in more urban centres, Ovid was elected as a Black man. That speaks not only to the constituents of my great riding and how fair and balanced they are, but to what a nice, intelligent and competent individual Ovid himself was. Unfortunately, in my view, he ran for the wrong party, but we will deal with that on another day.

What is unique too about my riding and specifically Owen Sound, or the village of Sydenham as it was known then, is the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival. It is the longest ongoing festival in North America. It started in 1862, five years before Canada was officially a country, when Owen Sound or the village of Sydenham was recognizing the importance of the British Commonwealth's Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which took effect August 1, 1834. The festival started back then with a picnic with the early settlers and they have been celebrating it non-stop ever since. That act freed more than 800,000 slaves across the British colonies and that festival kept going.

In 2004, there was a commemorative cairn, and I challenge any members of Parliament if they are ever up in my riding to come and visit it.

It is in Harrison Park, right in the downtown part of Owen Sound, and it is a beautiful cairn that allows people of all backgrounds to go and visit, meditate for a while, think about the importance and the contributions Black people have made to our country, and remember the challenges they faced in our history. It recognizes those early settlers to my area: the Millers, the Johnsons, the Scotts, the Greens and the Courtneys. Their descendants come back. They are not just in the area, they actually come back from all across our great country, and, I dare say, across the world, every year to be part of that annual celebration, which has actually turned into a three-day event.

I have a unique connection to Blaine Courtney, who is a past chair of the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival. He was actually my track and field coach as a young teenager. Blaine and I got along great. He never stopped pushing me all the time to be the best that I could be, and I actually think I owe him, and all my coaches, a lot of gratitude for making me into the person I am today. I think they were instrumental in helping me be successful in my military career, and hopefully it will lead to success here in my political career.

Just a year and a half ago at the 2019 festival, my daughter and I were in attendance, and I was so proud as she was selected by the town crier to be part of the festival. She got to ring the bell, and she actually rang the bell with the granddaughters of Senator Bernard, and it was a unique experience. The one thing that I guess I was a little envious of was that my daughter made the front page of the local paper, the Owen Sound Sun Times, which is the biggest paper in my riding. I had just been elected as the Conservative candidate just a couple months prior, and there was my daughter making the front page of the newspaper and I was not mentioned at all. Maybe she has a future in politics if she wants. This year, of course, was slightly different; 2020 was done virtually, but I dare say it was impressive to see everybody still gathered and be instrumental as part of that festival.

A key part, as well, in our riding is the Grey Roots Museum. That museum is a wealth of knowledge to educate people, which this motion speaks to the importance of. I really think that the root advantage of bringing this motion forward is to make sure we never forget, and at the same time that we educate.

I have travelled the world in my military career. I have been in countries all over the world, some of the worst parts of the world. I have always said that I have yet to meet a single person in any other nation around the world who, at that grassroots level, is any different from the average Canadian. Most people just want to live in peace and have their children grow up healthy, well-fed and with an opportunity to have more.

I have served with people of all descents and backgrounds. The best friend I made at basic training out in Chilliwack, unfortunately I can't remember his last name, was Derek. He and I were sort of like two peas in a pod. He was from Montreal. We did basic training together in Chilliwack and sort of tried to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, he did not make it through basic training, and I have not seen him since. I got to the Royal Military College, and made friends like Scott Morrow and Austin Douglas. I served with Austin in The Royal Canadian Regiment as well. There was Master Corporal Raymond Farmer, who I will never forget. I do not know where Raymond is now, but he was sort of like my close protection bodyguard on my first tour in Afghanistan. All these gentlemen are people of Black descent.

I cannot imagine living in any country in the world other than Canada. We are so fortunate, and I am so glad that we played such an instrumental part in helping slaves escape from the United States back in the 1800s. I am so glad to see this motion being brought forward by the member for Richmond Hill. It is a way to recognize the contributions the people of African descent have made to this great country. It is a way to educate and to recognize what they are still contributing to this day. This is the Canada I want my daughter to grow up and be proud of.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my hon. colleague for his speech and the friendship that is clear to all of us today.

I am going to talk about Motion No. 36 to designate emancipation day. My colleague talked about education, so I am going to take this opportunity to revisit history, because knowing where we come from is the best way to know where we are going. Let me share a few historical facts.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire began with the Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British colonies for promoting the industry of manumitted slaves; and for compensating persons hitherto entitled to the service of such slaves, also known as the Slavery Abolition Act. The member mentioned it earlier. The act received royal assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect in August 1834.

The act abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing the 800,000 African slaves in the Caribbean, South Africa and Canada. However, in the eastern colonies of Lower Canada, now Quebec, in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick, abolitionist efforts remained unsuccessful.

In 1793, for instance, Pierre-Louis Panet introduced a bill to the National Assembly to abolish enslavement in Lower Canada, but the bill languished over several sessions and never came to a vote. Instead, individual legal challenges first raised in the late 1700s undermined the institution of enslavement in these areas.

One important case arose in February 1798, when an enslaved woman named Charlotte was arrested in Montreal and refused to return to her mistress. She was brought before James Monk, a justice of the King’s Bench with abolitionist sympathies, who released her on a technicality.

According to British law, enslaved persons could be detained only in houses of corrections, not common jails. Since no houses of correction existed in Montreal, Charlotte could not be detained there. Charlotte and another enslaved woman named Judith were accordingly freed that winter. Justice Monk stated in his ruling that he would apply this interpretation of the law to subsequent cases.

New France was not free from slavery. Thanks to the trail-blazing, if dated, work of Marcel Trudel, we know a fair amount about slavery in Quebec. He listed a total of 4,185 slaves for a period ranging from the 17th century to 1834. Of that number, three-quarters were indigenous slaves. The slave trade took on different proportions. The proportion of indigenous slaves, the Panis, was greater than that of African slaves. In 1759—there are a lot of dates, but it is important to remember them—records listed 1,100 Black slaves in Canada toward the end of the Seven Years' War. That is terrible.

Obviously, we cannot talk about slavery without talking about the young Marie-Josèphe-Angélique, who was born in 1710 and hanged in 1734. In their book Elles ont fait l'Amérique, anthropologists Serge Bouchard and Marie-Christine Lévesque helped make many people aware of Marie-Josèphe-Angélique's story, which is the first documented case of slave resistance in the history of Quebec and Canada.

Obviously, in 2020, we recognize that slavery is an extremely unfair practice. Unfortunately that was not always the case over the course of history. It was not until the 19th century that slavery was slowly abolished.

Although the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this motion, it might have been a good idea to have the motion place more emphasis on the agency of slaves in the slavery abolition process. What does agency mean? It is the ability of historical actors, particularly those who were oppressed, to make their mark on the world, transform and influence it for the better, rather than simply being subject to it.

In fact, the motion seems to give the British Parliament an all-powerful role in the abolition of slavery, as if it were a divine gift that British parliamentarians bestowed upon slaves in the four corners of the empire. The historical reality is much more complex. We need to remember the context in which slavery was abolished. The emancipation proclamation was only the culmination of a historic process that slaves were an integral part of.

Our version of history so far has credited liberal abolitionists alone with putting an end to this unjust system. However, in a fairly recent book called Slave No More: Self-Liberation Before Abolitionism in the Americas, Russian historian Aline Helg describes the slaves' own agency and how they were the architects of their own liberation.

She details, from the very beginning, how slaves in the Americas between 1492 and 1838 engaged in rebellions and emancipation strategies. How were these slaves agents of their own liberation? Through marronage, enfranchisement, military involvement and rebellion. This cannot be forgotten.

This motion is also inspired by the International Decade for People of African Descent, the theme of which is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development”. In recognizing this decade, the House of Commons will put itself at the forefront of the recognition, justice and development of people of African descent as a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. This needs to be made clear here, in the democratic institutions that belong to all citizens.

That is why this motion, which recognizes historical facts and builds on this international decade, highlights the contributions made by African descendants to Quebec's and Canada's societies and acknowledges Canada's history of slavery through a national day of commemoration.

The Bloc Québécois will obviously vote in favour of this motion. I want to take a moment to acknowledge our beloved mayor back in my riding of Laurentides—Labelle, who has been in office for 14 years. He is one of just two Black mayors in Quebec's history. I congratulate Michel Adrien for his 14 years—

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Sébastien Lemire

And Ulrick Chérubin.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Yes, of course, there was also Ulrick Chérubin in Amos, in my hon. colleague's riding.

In closing, Black history is our history.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have had the privilege of rising in the House on many occasions, but perhaps none with the deepest privilege with which I rise here today. I shall begin by noting that 10 minutes is not nearly enough to capture the collective lives and times of descendants of the African slave trade.

I want to restate the gratitude that I have for the hon. member for Richmond Hill, who with passion, justice and rightful recognition has reintroduced this critically important motion. He is lifting up the work of the always honourable senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, who would indeed rank among the most learned and exalted members of Canadians of African descent.

Like many Black and racialized Canadians, I am often asked the question, “Where are you from?” When I share with them that I am Canadian, the next question I am asked is, “But what about your parents?” I tell them I am Canadian, and they ask about my grandparents. I share with them that I am Canadian. My people go back here six generations. In the previous speaker's comments, he inadvertently gave me a shout-out when recognizing the founding families in the settlement that have become Owen Sound. Indeed, I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.

My earliest memories of family would come from our annual trip to Owen Sound to Harrison Park, which is shared by the hon. member from that riding. This would be an extended family picnic and a place where I would be rooted in the celebration of emancipation day. Yes, this commemorates the history that goes back to 1862, before the Confederation of this country.

I am here in the spirit of the Black Moses, Harriet Tubman, who in escaping the wretched and brutal conditions of slavery in the south, risked her life to follow the North Star, to follow the footpaths of the Underground Railroad searching for the promised land. She was an exceptional woman, with a military mind, and a leader of the likes any people would be proud to claim. Indeed, my people followed that North Star from what is likely Maryland today and travelled for days along those backwood paths.

We have heard here today, and I want to go on the record to correct the record, the framing of slaves. It is true that as a young person I grew up in our education system, and I would have shared that I am the son of runaway slaves. Of course, that is false. The context is very problematic because they were not slaves, they were people who were enslaved.

These were a people who survived the transatlantic slave trade and who found themselves in one of the most wretched conditions of humanity, the deepest evil of the United States of America at that time in those settlements, yet they survived. They were the ones who risked everything in following those footpaths to get to freedom, and they are the ones who will teach us about emancipation today.

Our history books will teach us that we were given freedom. I will share, as taught by the Black Moses Harriet Tubman, her grave warnings. She said, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's [someone] shouting after you, keep going. Do not ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

The history books hide a painful truth in our collective class. They are things that I had to find for myself. The member is quite right that we have to change our education system. There was a book by Daniel Hill Sr., from which I learned that I am actually the descendent of freedom seekers. I would be remiss if I did not mention that in the motion the historical truths of Canada laid out very clearly in that British Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834.

It also acknowledges and recognizes that slavery existed in British North America prior to abolition in 1834, which is a clear acknowledgement of the British Crown's active participation and, indeed, profiteering from the human trafficking and enslavement of stolen African diaspora.

Where is the acknowledgement and, indeed, the solemn apology to all descendants of African slavery from the Liberal government?

We have heard before, in section (c) of the motion, about abolitionists and others who struggled, and I will share that it is true in that time that men of faith, people of faith, Quakers and others risked everything to give refuge to people seeking freedom. My people were the first refugees of these lands. It begs the question, “What are you willing to sacrifice in order that others may be free, free from discrimination, free from police brutality, free from the systemic barriers?”

The government is facing a class action lawsuit from the public sector today. We have to contextualize exactly what emancipation means. I think a lot about the refugees seeking safety at Roxham Road.

When the Government of Canada announces the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent to highlight important contributions and to provide a platform for confronting anti-Black racism, this would be a perfect time for the Prime Minister to make clear that recognition and acknowledgement in the form of reparations for the displacement of historical Black settlements, from Africville to Hogan's Alley and every settlement in between.

It is true that we get together in the deep beauty of my people to celebrate our freedom and our liberation and the collective struggles of our ancestors. I will close by calling on the work of the present-day abolitionists of our time, those who rallied around the Black lives matter movement in this country, and whose members, the founding members, our present-day abolitionists, wrote in their seminal work, the book Until We are Free by Black Lives Matter Toronto, and who dedicated their life's work, and for whom I dedicate mine, to a true and everlasting emancipation, “For our Ancestors, whose struggle we continue until we are free. For our Elders, whose fight we continue until we are free”, and I will add, for the future generations that continue the struggle for our collective liberation and our emancipation, for our children and our children's children, until we are free.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marci Ien Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Motion No. 36, which seeks to designate August 1 of every year as emancipation day in Canada.

Motion No. 36 acknowledges that the British Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire as of August 1, 1834, and that slavery existed in British North America prior to its abolition. In fact, Olivier Le Jeune was recorded as the first enslaved African to live in New France in the 1600s. Olivier's birth name is not known as he was taken from Africa as a young child and eventually given the last name of the priest who purchased him.

The Slavery Abolition Act ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834, and thus also in Canada. However, the first colony in the British Empire to have anti-slavery legislation was Upper Canada, now Ontario. Unfortunately, the act against slavery of 1793 did not free a single slave. It was superseded by the Slavery Abolition Act.

To better understand the anti-slavery legislation of 1793, we have to remember Chloe Cooley. Chloe was a young Black woman who was enslaved in Fort Erie in the late 1700s. Her owner forced her onto a boat across the Niagara River into the United States to sell her. This incident is believed to have led to the passage of the legislation of 1793 in Upper Canada that prevented enslaved people from being imported into the province.

Although the Slavery Abolition Act stopped slavery in the British colonies, it did not end in the American southern states. Up to 40,000 African American slaves tried to escape from the American south to freedom in the northern states or to Canada.

The Underground Railroad appeared in this context. It was not a railroad at all, but a complex clandestine network of people, including Blacks, fellow enslaved persons, white and indigenous sympathizers, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, farmers, Americans and Canadians alike, who organized safe houses that helped enslaved men, women and children in southern plantations reach freedom in the north.

Between 1850 and 1860 alone, up to 20,000 slaves reached Upper Canada. It became the main terminus of the Underground Railroad. Black Canadians helped build strong communities and contributed to the development of the provinces where they settled. Some lived in all-Black settlements such as Elgin, Buxton, Queen's Bush and the Dawn settlement near Dresden, Ontario, as well as Birchtown and Africville in Nova Scotia.

They cultivated the land, built homes and raised families. Black people established religious, educational, social and cultural institutions, political groups and community building organizations. Two newspapers were also founded: The Voice of the Fugitive by Mary and Henry Bibb and Mary Ann Shadd Cary's The Provincial Freeman, making Cary the first Black woman in North America to edit a newspaper.

Through the ages, Black Canadians encountered various forms of discrimination. They were often relegated to certain jobs and denied the right to live in certain places due to their race. Parents were forced to send their children to segregated schools that existed in parts of Ontario and Nova Scotia. This is what historians call “residential segregation”.

People of African descent have shaped Canada's heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s. However, the vital role of people of African descent has not always been viewed as such.

Inspired by these stories of courage and resilience, Black Canadians of a more recent past have made tremendous contributions to our society. Let me recall some notable figures such as Alberta's Violet King, Canada's first Black female lawyer; Gloria Baylis, who in 1965 won the first-ever case of employment-related racial discrimination in Canada and founded the Baylis Medical Company; Chatham, Ontario's Fergie Jenkins, one of the most talented pitchers to ever play in Major League Baseball, winning the Cy Young Award in 1971 and becoming the first Canadian inducted into the National Baseball National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1991; and Édouard Anglade, the first Black and for several years the only Black officer on the police force in Montreal.

On a very personal note, growing up in Toronto and studying in history class in high school, I did not see my history. The history books did not include me. It was almost as if Black history was erased. All these years later, decades later, my 16-year-old daughter still does not have what I wanted. She does not see herself in the books that she studies.

I say to members today, Black history is Canadian history.

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to speak to this important motion that my friend and colleague has introduced in the House. I do not think I can compete with the eloquent speeches that have been given in the last hour, because they came from the heart and have very strong, passionate words, but I do have a few thoughts I would like to share.

The New Democratic member referenced the generations. I believe he said eight generations is the extent of his family roots. This triggered something in my memory. Many years ago, probably about 20 to 25, I was at the Victoria Hotel. There was a Black lady standing beside me, and a Caucasian individual walked up between us. He posed her a question: “How long have you been in Canada for?” As much as he meant it to be an innocent comment, I suspect that if she had been of a Caucasian background, that question would never have been asked.

I do not believe we have done well regarding education and cross-cultural awareness. That is why I put to my good friend the importance of it. Education is critically important to advance, and it goes beyond our classrooms. We can talk about our workforces and how we can incorporate it into our communities. A number of years ago, the Manitoba Intercultural Council came up with a recommendation that said the way people should deal with issues like this is through cross-cultural education. I am not too sure if the council exists today.

I think there have been some very interesting stories over the years that Hollywood has amplified. I am very touched when I watch some of the videos that I have acquired. For example, I have a copy of the Roots series. To watch it sets off all sorts of emotions, but I am mostly angry because it is hard to imagine how society could treat people in such a fashion.

The way the character William Wilberforce was portrayed in the show Amazing Grace, which is about the abolishment of slavery, and the impact the British Commonwealth had are so significant to the debate we are having today. However, as my colleague who spoke just before me alluded to regarding her daughter, for young people who are in school today, this major, important aspect of Canadian heritage has been completely overlooked and is not getting the attention it deserves.

I am very proud of the general attitudes that are brought forward from parliamentarians when we talk, for example, of our Black caucus and the extending of hands to try to get more involvement on the issue of systemic racism, which is in fact present. It is very real and it is tangible. It hurts a great deal of Canadians in all regions of our country.

The objective of this motion is very admirable and needs to be put into place. I suspect that when it does come time for others to contribute to the debate and for the ultimate vote on the motion, it will pass through the House, as I believe it is long overdue.

I anticipate that it will be a significant step, but we recognize the need for us to do so much more. I believe all members are committed to doing this in whatever capacity they can, whether they are in government or opposition. Whatever role they play in the House, there is a great expectation—

Emancipation DayPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We will leave it there for now, but the hon. member for Winnipeg North will have four and a half minutes remaining in his time when the House next gets back to debate on the question.

The time provided for consideration of this item of Private Members' Business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 6:30 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 37(7), the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill C-230 under Private Members' Business.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

, seconded by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, moved that Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism be read the second time and referred to a committee.

She said: Mr. Speaker, “The land is our Mother, so when we lose value for the land...people lose value for the women.” Thus says Vanessa Gray of Aamjiwnaang first nation in Ontario, and I agree. It is also my firm belief that, like systemic racism, environmental racism is something that has been ignored for far too many years. The time has come for us to act to redress the problems of the past and make sure they do not continue. Surely it should be enshrined as a human right for all Canadians to have clean air, water and earth.

I first became aware of the issue of environmental racism five years ago when I first met Dr. Ingrid Waldron, a professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, at a coffee shop in Halifax near the provincial legislature where I worked as an MLA. At that time, Dr. Waldron explained what her research and data gathering was proving about the reality of environmental racism in Nova Scotia.

I suggested that creating a legislative bill to address the issue would be of help at that point in time in bringing it to public awareness and to the floor of government in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron and I worked together for several weeks on my very first private member's bill, Bill No. 111, the environmental racism prevention act, which I introduced in Province House in 2015.

Later on, Dr. Waldron wrote a book entitled There's Something in the Water, which highlights environmental racism in Black and indigenous communities across Nova Scotia. She recently partnered with Nova Scotian actor Elliot Page to create the 2019 documentary based on that book.

Upon my arrival in Ottawa as an MP a year ago, my first personal order of business was to introduce a similar bill, but this time as a national strategy, in order to address environmental racism across Canada. The scope of Bill C-230 is therefore broader and more comprehensive than my original provincial bill.

Bill C-230 would collect data, including socio-economic circumstances, physical and mental effects of communities affected by environmental racism across this land. These effects are wide-ranging, from skin rashes and upset stomachs to more serious ailments, such as respiratory illness, including asthma; cardiovascular disease; reproductive morbidity, including preterm births and babies born with Down syndrome; as well as cancers that disproportionately impact women. There is evidence that many chronic diseases in indigenous communities, for instance, are not primarily due to genetics or internal factors, but instead, to external factors, such as what is in the air, in the water and in our environment.

I would like to personally thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands at this time for seconding Bill C-230. I suggest this is an example of what Canadians truly want to see in their government, especially in these dangerous times, which is parliamentarians working together.

I would like to thank Dr. David Suzuki and the David Suzuki Foundation, the Blue Dot movement and The ENRICH Project for their endorsement for and support of this vital bill. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Ingrid Waldron for her passion, dedication, research and assiduous study, as well as for sharing her notes with me this evening, because environmental racism and its effects on racialized communities need to be heard by everybody.

As MP for Cumberland—Colchester, I would like to explain what environmental racism is. It refers to the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous, Black and other racialized communities to polluting industries and other environmental hazards. These toxic burdens have been linked to high rates of cancer, as I have said, and other health problems in these communities.

From the decision approximately 60 years ago to off-load pulp mill effluent into Pictou Landing first nation's once pristine boat harbour and toxic landfills and dumps placed in the African Nova Scotian communities of Shelburne, Lincolnville and Africville to mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation, petrochemical facilities in the chemical valley of Ontario and in British Columbia, the legacy of environmental racism can no longer be ignored.

Bill C-230 is asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a strategy that must include measures to:

(a) examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk;

(b) collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards;

(c) collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism;

(d) assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province; and

(e) address environmental racism including in relation to

(i) possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs,

(ii) the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making,

(iii) compensation for individuals or communities,

(iv) ongoing funding for affected communities, and

(v) access of affected communities to clean air and water.

I would contend that indigenous and Black women have been building grassroots environmental and social justice movements for decades to challenge the legal, political and corporate agendas that sanction and enable environmental racism and other forms of colonial violence in their communities. Colonial gendered violence continues today and includes the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, the displacement of indigenous people from their lands by corporate resource-extraction projects, anti-Black and anti-indigenous police violence and other forms of state-sanctioned violence that make it difficult for indigenous and Black peoples and women to meet their basic needs with respect to employment, income, health care and other resources.

Colonization and genocide are tied to the intersections of indigenous lands and bodies. Women experience violence because they are the ones who are responsible for taking care of the land and holding it for future generations. Therefore, gendered violence that harms women specifically, also harms nations which makes it easier to take possession of the land.

For indigenous women specifically, production and reproduction, land and life, resistance and survival are all intimately connected. There is no separation. Therefore, the indigenous role in fighting against environmental racism by defending their land and territory and protecting their water are acts of resistance against gendered oppression.

What is environmental racism exactly? How do we define it?

Environmental racism is racial discrimination in the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous and racialized communities to contamination and pollution from polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous activities, as I said, but also in in the lack of political power these communities have for resisting the placement of industrial polluters in their communities; in the implementation of policies that sanction the harmful and, in many cases, life-threatening presence of poisons in these communities; in the disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies that result in differential rates of clean up of environmental contaminants in these communities; and in the history of excluding indigenous and racialized communities from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commissions and regulatory bodies and in the feminist movement.

Regarding the health effects of environmental racism in Canada, the health risks associated with that include, as I have said, all of these various different types of serious illnesses. Studies provide evidence that health effects of environmental racism are both gendered and racialized and impact indigenous women in specific ways, most notably the impacts on reproductive health. One of the most significant ways that environmental racism impacts indigenous women specifically is through the detrimental health effects of toxic contaminants that include high levels of toxins in breast milk, placenta, placenta cord blood, blood serum and body fat as well as infertility, miscarriages, premature births, premature menopause, reproductive system cancers and an inability to produce healthy children due to compromised endocrine and immune systems while in utero.

This bill, Bill C-230, is important. Why is it important? It would play a significant role in addressing the legacy of environmental racism in Canada and ensure that these communities would have access to clean air and water, to which all Canadians have a right.

It would also help address environmental health inequities in indigenous and Black communities that are outcomes of these communities' proximity to environmental contamination and pollution.

It is up to those with power, and not the people impacted by environmental racism, to address the problem. Those who have the most influence and the strongest voices need to be part of the solution. It is important that all communities have the power to control their environment. Currently, indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, non-white communities, do not have that power. When they do not have a say in what happens in their communities, we all suffer.

Bill C-230 addresses this imbalance of power and benefits everyone. It is good for all of us. It is good for Canada. It would provide an opportunity for the communities most affected by environmental racism to be involved in environmental policy-making.

According to a Lincolnville resident in Nova Scotia, who is mentioned in Dr. Waldron's book There's Something in the Water, community members have experienced worsening health since the first generation landfill was placed in their community in 1974, including increased rates of cancer and diabetes.

This person also says:

“If you look at the health of the community prior to 1974 before the landfill site was located in our community, our community seemed to be healthier. From 1974 on until the present day, we noticed our people's health seems to be going downhill. Our people seem to be passing on at a younger age. They are contracting different types of cancer that we never heard of prior to 1974. Our stomach cancer seems to be on the rise.... Our people end up with tumours in their body. And, we're at a loss of, you know, of what's causing it. The Municipality says that there's no way that the landfill site is affecting us, but if the landfill site located in other areas is having an impact on people's health, then shouldn't the landfill site located next to our community be having an impact on our health too?”

Perhaps no other African-Canadian community has served as a more classic example and symbol of both gentrification and environmental racism than Africville: the former Black community on the shores of the Bedford Basin.

By 1965, the City of Halifax had embarked on an urban renewal campaign resulting in the forcible displacement of Africville's residents, resulting in the area becoming host to a number of environmental and social hazards, such as a fertilizer plant, a slaughterhouse, a tar factory, a stone and coal crushing plant, a cotton factory, a prison, three systems of railway tracks and an open dump.

I ask that all members of the House support this bill. Let us be a first. Let us make this something we can all be proud of, and let us do this for the people of Canada.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I see there is a lot of interest in questions and comments. I am going to ask hon. members to keep their interventions to no more than 45 seconds and the same for the hon. member who is responding.

The hon. member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member has brought a bill to this place and a debate that she is very passionate about. In this bill, she is actually tasking the Minister of Environment, but many of the issues she has talked about are in regard to indigenous reconciliation.

Why only task the Minister of Environment? Why does the member believe that the minister may criticize many of the failures the government has had in reconciliation? Many of these are also historic wrongs dating back to the last century. I would like to hear what the member has to say in regard to that.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, when I first started down this road and researching it, I thought of it as a provincial issue. A lot of things are provincial and municipal like dumps, waste sites, toxic landfills and things like that. As I started to look into it more, I started to notice that it is stretched right across Canada. In fact, there are many corporate polluters, which is part of the reason why many indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water today, why children have rashes and why they have all kinds of illnesses. That is why our government is now tasked with cleaning that up. I think it will stretch across all kinds of departments, but it lands at the department of environment to begin with—

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Victoria.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this really important bill. I applaud her work on it.

I am curious about reparations. This bill speaks about the impacts on indigenous communities and on racialized communities. We were just debating a bill on Emancipation Day. The conversation around how to compensate communities that have been impacted is an important one.

I am curious how the member sees her bill fitting into a conversation around reparations.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know the member opposite has also studied environmental racism and actually taught about it in university.

This is an important part of this bill. We are talking about this now in Nova Scotia and in the Black community. It is a very big deal here. The dialogue has just started.

This bill is meant to enable people to make references and tell the government what they think we should do. I would hope that the government would then follow suit, take note of that and follow up with it. It is very important.