The Legacy of Slavery in Canada

Excerpt from August 10, 2020 post

The 1783 Act to Limit Slavery was the first legislation to limit slavery in the British Colonies and celebrated by abolitionists in Upper Canada. British abolitionists had been engaged in protests against transatlantic trade in African people since the 1770’s. In 1833, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act in Parliament which was targeting slavery in tropical countries. Slavery was abolished in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa, as well as a small number in Lower Canada. By 1934, Canada became a destination for black people trying to escape slavery in the United States via The Underground Railway. As a Canadian, this has been a point of pride.

Slavery has been present since ancient times and has been sustained in one form or another throughout history.  The British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Belgian empires-built empires based primarily on plantation agriculture using people abducted from Africa.  Slavery in the plantation economies of the United States, Brazil and Cuba came later and flourished under slavery.  Today slavery continues with human trafficking and in sweat shops.  Clearly there is no one country or civilization that has moral high ground.  Slavery in one form or another has plagued us all.  The point here is not that we all need to feel guilty.  It is to understand that through-out history, people have been making judgements that some people are less than.  Who decides?  For what purpose?

David Livingstone (1813-1873) in his explorations / mapping of central Africa documented in his journals and spoke in Britain of the cruelty of the slave trade in destroying African lives but also the devastating impact on the British character:

“No one can understand the effect of the unutterable meanness of the slave-system on the minds of those who, but for the strange obliquity which prevents them from feeling the degradation of not being gentlemen enough to pay for services rendered, would be equal in virtue to ourselves.  Fraud becomes as natural to them as ‘paying one’s way’ is to the rest of mankind.” 

He points out that slavery has a double-edged sword. It is devasting to the life of the person being enslaved. It also has a devastating impact on the character of the person involved in the enslavement. I would propose that racism also has a double-edged sword. It hurts the recipient of racism. It also damages the character of the racist. A world based on equity and respect is the only avenue forward.

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