In 2021, Members of Parliament voted unanimously to officially recognize August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada. August 1 is significant because it marks the day in 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, after being passed by the British Parliament. The Act initiated the legal abolition of centuries of slavery that impacted over 800,000 people of African descent who were enslaved around the world – including here in Canada.

As we celebrate and acknowledge this day, it is important to recognize that the history of slavery has impacted every country, including Canada, and continues to affect us all. Before it was made illegal, there were at least 3,500 enslaved people in New France (present-day Quebec), many of whom were Indigenous. Some 3,000 more enslaved people of African descent were brought into British North America (present-day Canada).

Reminders of Canada’s participation in slavery are all around us. McGill University is named after James McGill, member of the Assembly of Lower Canada, who enslaved Black people. Jarvis street in Toronto is named after the Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada, William Jarvis, who also enslaved Black people.

Emancipation Day did not come about without struggle. Slave uprisings across British colonies threatened the economic stability of the British empire and cost enslaved people their lives. The Act itself had limited impact in British North America when it passed – less than 50 people of African descent were liberated in Canada – and it included reparations not for people who were enslaved, but for slave owners. The UK’s payouts to slave-owning families only ended in 2015.

To this day, few know about Canada’s history of slavery, segregated schools, and the impacts of anti-Black racism that have led to the over-policing and over-surveillance of Black communities, and the enormous racial inequities related to housing, education, health and child welfare.

Instead, we are seeing more willingness by political leaders to embrace denialism and hateful rhetoric, including against the 2SLGBTQI+ community, whose Black and racialized members are often most at risk.

As we celebrate the sense of freedom and liberation this day brings, CUPE encourages you to do your part in the ongoing fight to dismantle and get rid of anti-Black racism, which still exists to this day.

What CUPE locals and members can do:


  • Learn about Black enslavement in Canada.
  • Read about critical race theory and how it’s a tool to expose the impacts of racist legislation and public policies.
  • Check out films about the rich history of Black communities in Canada on the National Film Board’s website.


  • Bargain to eliminate systemic racism and workplace inequities. One way to do this is by bargaining an employment equity plan.
  • Bargain supports for migrant workers in your local. Migrant workers in Canada have sometimes described their conditions of work as akin to modern-day slavery. These supports could include access to legal counsel to get permanent residence and protections against lower wages based on immigration status.
  • Bargain to include Emancipation Day as a day off with pay.


  • Read CUPE’s Anti-Racism Strategy in its entirety and take the actions outlined in the 10 goals.
  • Organize workplaces that are racialized so that Indigenous, Black and racialized workers can also reap the benefits of unionization.
  • Acknowledge that Black enslavement and white supremacy is part of Canada’s history and present.
  • Support calls for reparations to Black communities and nations impacted by the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
  • For members of Black communities, be gentle with yourselves. Take time to rest and read up on the impacts of white supremacy and anti-Black racism on your bodies and health.
  • Check in with Black CUPE members and offer support.
  • Continue to fight against anti-Black racism, hate and all other forms of racism.
  • Order CUPE’s Time to end racism button and sticker for yourself and for members of your local.
  • Participate in Emancipation Day events and activities in your region.