August 1st is Emancipation Day

Image of a reaching hand, chains in background

On August 1, we invite the UBC community to join in the recognition and celebration of Emancipation Day in Canada.


Unanimously designated as Emancipation Day by the House of Commons in 2021, this day marks the enactment of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 on August 1, 1834 across the British Empire. However, most enslaved peoples in Canada did not achieve full emancipation until later as those six years old and over were required to continue serving without pay for additional four to six years as means of “compensation” to slave owners.

This day provides an opportunity to celebrate the strength, courage, and perseverance of people of African descent in Canada, recognize their struggles to end enslavement, and acknowledge their contributions towards Canadian society.

Following the House of Commons, the City of Vancouver and BC Government officially proclaimed August 1 as Emancipation Day. The United Nations proclaimed 2015-2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD), “citing the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.” The UN identified the following themes of focus: recognition, justice and development.

Why it matters

Many remain unaware that Canada’s colonial foundations were shaped by anti-Black and anti-Indigenous discrimination, which sought to subjugate and segregate Black and Indigenous peoples. Many also remain unaware that Black and Indigenous peoples were once enslaved across the country. And, while slavery has been abolished, the systemic effects and legacies of subjugation, segregation, and slavery continue to reverberate today.

Learning about and acknowledging historical and contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination are the first steps in working towards redress and reparation.

What you can do

Efforts to mark Emancipation Day across Canada create opportunities to learn about and reflect on the history and impacts of colonialism, segregation, and slavery on Black peoples in Canada, and, more importantly, to recommit to actions to address ongoing systemic anti-Black racism.

At UBC, Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force Report recommendations highlight several strategic actions to support university’s commitments to meaningfully address anti-Black racism and support Black excellence and flourishing. Priorities identified in the report are incorporated into the new Strategic Equity and Anti-racism Framework and Roadmap for change.

On this day, we invite members of the UBC community to renew your commitments to learning, reflection, and action so that collectively we can combat anti-Black racism.

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Do you or someone you know have concerns with discrimination at UBC? Learn more about our human rights advising service and get in touch with our human rights advisors.

Photo attribution: Government of Canada