Emancipation Day, recognized on August 1, provides an opportunity for Ontario, its institutions and its people to commit to working towards a society that is rid of ongoing systemic and individual forms of anti-Black racism. While Ontario recognized the day in 2008, recognizing Emancipation Day nationally would bring a cross-Canada focus to achieving true equality for all Canadians.

Emancipation Day commemorates the Abolition of Slavery Act that came into force in Canada in 1834. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade created damaging systemic legacies that, 186 years later, are still embedded and “normalized” within our society in Ontario and Canada. While individual acts of anti-Black racism occur daily, systemic anti-Black racism within institutions oppresses entire Black populations on an ongoing basis. These old, colonial systems are the same that also oppress Canada’s Indigenous populations.

As with other institutions such as law enforcement, oppression of Black communities and racialized groups is embedded in systems, policies and practices. Only real structural change and an authentic commitment to dismantle racism and white supremacy will free our society from the burden of colonialism and its effects.

The education sector is not exempt. Protests are leading to change within school boards and within the Ministry of Education. Anti-Black racism is not only explicitly named, but challenged in more formal ways than ever before. Representation has changed within leadership positions at various school boards, but there is much more work to do.

For its part, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) remains committed to working with its educators to stop anti-Black racism and teach ways to unlearn it as part of a multi-year strategy to address anti-Black racism issues within ETFO, the education sector and in broader society.

Recent social justice uprisings and protests remind us that anti-Black racism is all our problem. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter have been joined by diverse community members. The groundswell of these uprisings has forced companies and traditional power structures to re-evaluate their practices to counter anti-Black racism.

Emancipation provided freedom from slavery for people of African descent. The necessary work must be done by governments, institutions and individuals to provide freedom in the form of equity and social justice that is the legal and moral right of every Black youth and adult.

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.