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Open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting a much-needed apology for slavery in Canada

5 January, 2021

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Happy New Year! Hopefully, in 2021 Canada will continue to incorporate anti-Black racism into the tenants and policies of this great nation.  I resubmit a revised letter requesting a much-needed Apology for Slavery in Canada. I sent the original letter to your attention in 2020, but never received a reply regarding this serious matter. 

Allow me to reiterate:

During a visit to the Nova Scotia Black Cultural Centre On 24th of February, 2019, I watched and listened to you deliver an apology to African Canadian Nova Scotians for being racially profiled during a visit to Parliament Hill.

The Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) agents responsible for this racist gaffe showed gross cultural incompetence by taking a photo and referring to these Canadian Citizens as ‘dark-skinned’ unruly individuals. Further, ousting this delegation from the Parliamentary cafeteria, even though they had the proper credentials, was outrageous to say the least. These kinds of events are all too common. Embedded racism and prejudice easily disregard such actions. Thankfully the Parliamentary Protective Service has agreed to equity and anti-racism training for its staff. As a former government employee, I feel all government staff would benefit from such training in the same way French language skills are required/taught.  

Your request for forgiveness touched me, an African Canadian woman, with a watchful sense of satisfaction. Yet again, you, our highest national representative, apologized for a grievous wrong committed by perhaps unthinking, probably unfeeling staffers. I will remind you, Prime Minister that I sent a letter regarding the refusal to admit Jews into Canada in 1939 praising your apology for that grave historic error.

This most recent disturbing incident was hurtful. What a shameful way to celebrate Black History Month! Your words delivered with such sincerity regarding racism in my homeland were well spoken. The issue and after-math of Slavery and racism are still linger as grave societal wrongs against Canadians of African origins. It seems that these hateful deeds are viewed in an entirely different light than evil perpetrated against other cultures globally. When Slavery was in vogue, the entire civilized world was chronicled as achieving great strides in all areas of human advancement and enrichment. The enslavement of Black people was seen at best a right for Euro-centric peoples promoting a moral good that elevated black savage, at worst, a necessary evil to attain amazing riches and prodigious gains for everyone but Blacks.  

More times than I can count I have listened to and read, “Those were different or confusing times”, or, “Slavery wasn’t my fault, so why should I have to apologize for what my ancestors/others where responsible for that systemic racism”. You, I and the rest of the world now know better, but shameless buck-passing continues. As these nasty incidents continue to pile up, only a handful of nations have taken ownership of their part in dehumanizing Blacks for profit, elevated social status, and self-aggrandizement. I implore you to take ownership of this callous historic omission, no matter how embarrassing or hard to swallow.  Cultural competency, being accountable for one’s deeds, is what is required to finally take responsibility and express regret! 

Canada, under Great Britain and since, has prudently matured enough to grasp its part in numerous blatant acts of atrocity against diverse, persecuted communities within our multicultural family. Rightful, long overdue apologies have been extended to persecuted Jews, Italian Canadians, Chinese Canadians and even our First Nation population. 

How is it that African Canadians have not received a glaringly absent apology for Slavery in this country? The source of so much racism and systemic hatred continues to be ignored. What we have suffered at the hands of our countrymen must be rectified with an apology.  

Since the very beginnings of this great multicultural nation, African Canadians have contributed significantly! Mathieu Da Costa, Canada’s first recorded free Black, translated between our Indigenous population and the French, giving Europeans the opportunity to colonize this country.  Our time in bondage launched and built this New World.  Everyone else benefited by our labour and ingenuity.

I venture to say that we Blacks have given vastly more benefit to Canada, disproportionate to the way we have been wrongly treated, rebuffed, and ignored for our contributions. Instead, we have endured gross disfranchisement, racism and prejudices, legal and otherwise. Legislations relegating Blacks to second class citizenship fill our annals; few ameliorating legislations have been passed to amend or ‘fix’ that unbearable frustrating status. That is why there are still ‘problems’ with old stock African Canadian Ontarians, Black Nova Scotians, Toronto’s Caribbean population and newer Black Canadians in Canada’s west. 

African Canadians are still bravely trying to make up that palpable difference – economically, socially, corporately and emotionally, in fact, literally in all sectors of our existence. Our youth often feel outside the mainstream, blocked from success because an unspoken systemic racism, a damaging underbelly of bias and discrimination that is always close to the surface in Canadian society. A misplaced, deep-seeded sense of euro-centric privilege has crippled so much progress over the decades.

My own family has helped nation-build in Canada since 1798, when we first arrived via the fabled Underground Railroad.  I know families across this country with more longevity than ours who have also proudly defended our country and realms where slavery was/is condoned. They strived to be contributing members of the social order, voting to improve conditions and upholding decency/the moral good. These Blacks died for a promised freedom, cruelly and calculatingly denied. 

Canada seems to have lost sight of the fact that her magnanimous gestures in helping Black pioneers find refuge within its boundaries during the Underground Railroad era offered a freedom the rest of the world sought/seeks when they chose this great nation as their new home. Others have obtained that freedom. Yet, Blacks continue to be profiled and overlooked here in the nation we, too, built and enriched. 

Almost forgotten freedom fighters and pioneering African Canadians along with the rest of our African origin residents, deserve to feel that all-encompassing warm satisfaction of inclusion and know we are genuinely accepted into the folds of Canadian life.  More recent immigrants, legal or illegal, are respectfully, and often, affectionately greeted at our points of entry by you and other high-ranking dignitaries. They are helped to adjust here.  Pioneering Blacks were deprived of immigrant status. After being ‘deemed unsuitable’ to immigrate to Canada’s West because we could not stand the cold’ even though we were already homesteading in the west and farming and pursuing numerous trades in the rest of the country.  Sadly, we were not invited to become ‘real’ Canadians until 1911. 

Over the years, special grants and entitlements have been sporadically scattered about in offhanded recompense for that little irregularity called Slavery.  However, there is nothing that can supplant a loud, genuinely heartfelt public apology from those who rule.  Those who know African Canadians are owed an apology that is disappointingly in arrears!!

It is time to embrace well documented facts, including this latest ‘dark-skinned’ smear against us and prejudicial legislations which have impeded us living on that mythical “equal playing field for all Canadians” and admit that Slavery and its long-standing ill effects was wrong and damaging to Blacks, in fact all citizens of colour, here in Canada.  

Again, I request an apology from you, from the Canadian government for enslaving Blacks and practicing racist tactics against Blacks. Sir, no matter against how many, no matter for how long, and no matter for what level of cruelty or compassionate paternal stewardship that was employed, please admit Canada was wrong and benefited greatly for enslaving Black people and apologize!  

It is not acceptable to say that Blacks were enslaved in British Canada, meaning, before Confederation this colony, under the auspices of Great Britain, assumes no guilt. After Confederation, the founding fathers, some of whom and/or their families had slaves, continued to ignore the ugly after effects of Slavery and allowed it to shape a racist system that all Canadians are still grappling with.  As an example, until 1961, deeds stated that certain properties would not be sold to Negros, Jews and people who had committed treason against our country.  How shocking!!  Simply put, Prime Minister, we African Canadians want to gain and enjoy equivalent education, safety, property, wealth, health and freedom of choice in employment and leisure – a true equal standing. In 2020, Blacks are profiled, jailed and very possibly murdered with violent alacrity. When will these factual and traumatic wrongs be addressed?

It truly is time to speak the words, “We apologize to African Canadians for our role in Slavery and its after effects here in Canada”.  I am sure you and your staff can craft an appropriate speech in which African Canadians can finally feel embraced and know this country will genuinely move forward with real and sincere initiatives to help us climb out of the hell-pit calculated and constructed for Blacks so long ago. I implore you to show the world that Canada has a heart for justice, tolerance and bears contrition for all her victimised citizens, past and present.  

Again, I look forward to hearing from you regarding this pressing matter.

Respectfully,

Elise Harding-Davis 

African Canadian Heritage Consultant/Historian (7th generation born Canadian)

Harrow, ON


Elise Harding-Davis, African Canadian Heritage Consultant, is one of the foremost authorities on African Canadian history and events connected to the development and progress of North America. Her letter is republished here with her kind permission.

See also: Weekend video: Halifax press conference about racist profiling at Parliament Hill

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