Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I am grateful to be able to rise today on this unceded Anishinaabe Algonquin territory to deliver this statement about Emancipation Day.
While some communities across our country have been celebrating Emancipation Day for over 160 years, the federal government, the Senate and the Province of Nova Scotia only officially recognized August 1 as Emancipation Day in 2021.
Acknowledging Emancipation Day is recognizing the existence of slavery in Canada. This is an important first step to help us remember, reflect, learn and engage with Black communities and acknowledge the harms of anti-Black racism that are rooted in the enslavement of our ancestors.
Each August, I am impressed with the number of government departments, organizations, workplaces, municipalities and individuals who plan special events, programs and activities; 2023 was no different. I saw weekend festivals, community walks, religious services, staff lunch-and-learn events and empowerment programs. The social work community has been actively engaged by organizing a series of “teach-ins.” It has been a privilege to work with the Canadian Association of Social Workers and the provincial Associations of Black Social Workers from Nova Scotia, Alberta and Saskatchewan on this series.
My office hosted the first teach-in on reparations for African-Canadian seniors, based on the call to action in the Halifax Declaration.
This year, for Emancipation Day, I spoke to many community groups. To each group, I asked the question, “What’s next?” I heard so many responses that went beyond creating awareness. Many people stressed the need for apologies, reparations and ways to honour our collective past. We had conversations about ways to support Black Canadians beyond basic survival, and ways to create systemic change.
As I reflect on Emancipation Day 2023 and the work that lies ahead, I am encouraged by the collective sense of critical hope that continues to fuel our passion to fight for change.
Asante. Thank you.