Toronto’s Sadlier joins bid for national Emancipation Day

Rosemary Sadlier

Former president of the of the Ontario Black History Society, Rosemary Sadlier, has joined the campaign to get the Federal Government to declare August 1 as Emancipation Day across the country.

The petition, which is expected to be completed on February 15 to be presented to the House of Commons in Ottawa, will use in person and online methods.

The House of Commons E-Petition 1289, was initiated by Montreal’s David Haisell on October 15. He is the communications director of the Canadian branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The petition is sponsored by Toronto’s Liberal Member of Parliament (Beaches-East York) Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

The petition cites Canada’s leading role in the fight for human rights since the Act Against Slavery was passed in 1793 by the British parliament. It reads, “we, the undersigned, supporters of the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to declare August 1 as Emancipation Day across Canada.”

Sadlier said, “please sign and share to ensure that this date is commemorated as part of a process of further inserting the African reality into the country’s history.”

A national movement to enshrine August 1 has been on the table for 20 years, as Sadlier, as president of the Ontario Black History Society from 1993-205 contributed to the recognition of black history through education, research and outreach programs.

Her political lobbying was instrumental to the Canadian government’s 1995 decision to make the celebration of Black History Month a national annual event.

Both Sadlier and Haisell, believe that it is fitting that the House of Commons petition has been launched this year. Canada and Ontario are both celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, and Caribana, the largest festival in the world, is 50 as well. Also, 2017 falls within the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent.

Support for August 1 to become national Emancipation Day is also coming from cities such as Toronto and Ottawa and the Province of Ontario. Both cities, through proclamation have long recognized the date, while nine years ago the province passed its own Emancipation Day Act in Ontario.

“Why commemorate August 1 as Emancipation Day?” asks Sadlier. “It is because that date is the symbol of the beginning of freedom for enslaved peoples around the world. It is the reason that the largest freedom movement in the west, the Underground Railroad, began.

“It is a recognition of the resistance of African peoples in Africa, on slave ships and on plantations. It is a part of the history of our rebellions from Haiti and Toussaint L’Ouverture through Nat Turner and from Nanny of the Maroons through to Harriet Tubman,” Sadlier said.

To date, almost 100 people have signed the petition. Over 70% of the signatures are from Ontario residents. Organisers are expecting a dramatic increase in support of the national Emancipation Day campaign, with Sadlier’s backing.