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Calgary’s first Emancipation Day recognition held at City Hall

The City of Calgary celebrated it’s inaugural Emancipation Day with an event hosted by the city’s Anti-Racism Program,

The celebration, held on Thursday, July 28, was in recognition of Emancipation Day. It occurs every August 1, the day in 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect.

The event comes after a 2020 announcement by the City of Calgary for their commitment to anti-racism. This included the allocation of resources to the Calgary Police Commission.

“It is both a celebration of freedom but also a recognition of the mourning that goes along with the millions and millions of people who found themselves in chains and the cost that society still bears,” said Courtney Walcott, Ward 8 Councillor.

The event featured speakers from, and was hosted by the City of Calgary Anti-Racism Program.

“Today’s inaugural event of Emancipation Day has provided the space to ground ourselves and reflect upon the strength and perseverance of indigenous and black communities in Canada,” said Danielle Fermin, organizational stream lead, during the event.

Anti-Racism Program members engage attendees at their booth for Emancipation Day in City Hall on July 28, 2022. INGRID CANUEL / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Opportunities for education

The speakers stressed that Emancipation Day provides an opportunity to become educated and engage in the fight against racism in Canada.

They encouraged reflection on the effect of slavery in Canada’s history, and on indigenous and black Canadians who are still feeling those effects.

“Acknowledging Emancipation Day is acknowledging the existence of slavery any day this is an important first step that allows us to take time to make better reflect learn engage with black communities,” said Canadian Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, who joined the event via Zoom.

“As you observe this day, I invite you to commit to ongoing learning about the full history of black Canadians,” said Senator Bernard.

Emancipation Day commemorates the Abolition of Slavery Act passed by the British government 189 years ago, on August 1, 1833.

In 1833, Britain outlawed the slave trade, but not slavery. The government of Britain would eventually compensate slave owners £20 million after abolition, but not the slaves themselves.

That compensation was paid via loan taken out by the British government—the modern equivalent of £1.6 billion. It was repaid by the British government in 2015.

“If you don’t want to believe in this, the legacies of slavery if you don’t want to think too much too deeply about it I know most of us can understand dollars,” said Coun. Walcott.

City of Calgary icebreaker cube to discuss diversity and inclusion in the work place in City Hall on July 28, 2022. INGRID CANUEL / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Moving Forward

The Anti-Racism Program has three focus areas, said Fermin.

“The institution of the City of Calgary itself, the culture, the community, and then also public safety,” she said.

In September, the Anti-Racism Program is launching a 21-day anti-racism challenge for city employees. It follows the Anti-Racism Program’s community strategy, which will be released in August said Fermin.

Empathy is a primary attribute of the the Anti-Racism Program’s approach.

“There are people who want to be part of this work, but they feel guilty, because they’re afraid that they would make mistakes. And there are people who think, ‘This is so important. It needs to happen,'”said Dr. Linda Kongnetiman, the City of Calgary’s Anti-Racism Program manager.

Through empathy people come together to collectively do impactful work, said Dr. Kongnetiman.