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Essex County historian, author calling on federal government for apology on slavery

Elise Harding-Davis is an Essex County author and historian who is petitioning the government to issue an apology for slavery in Canada. Harding-Davis appears in a 2018 file photo.  (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Elise Harding-Davis is an Essex County author and historian who is petitioning the government to issue an apology for slavery in Canada. Harding-Davis appears in a 2018 file photo. (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)

For Elise Harding-Davis — an Essex County, Ont., Black Canadian history expert, author and advocate — an official apology from the Government of Canada for slavery in Canada would mean a "lifetime" of work recognized.

Harding-Davis has more than 500 signatures on a petition asking the government to officially apologize for slavery in Canada. The petition will be tabled in the House of Commons by Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse later this month

"Our group in society has not been apologized for slavery that happened here in Canada," she told CBC News. "I want an apology for enslavement that happened here in Canada."

Harding-Davis noted other apologies the federal government has made over the years, but said a formal apology for the slavery of Black Canadians has never been made.

"Canada was built on the backs of Black and Indigenous people who were enslaved," she said. "We should be apologized [to] for that.

"Reparations can come in many forms. The apology is most important and first. So hopefully within the next few months, that's going to happen."

Emancipation Day in Canada is Aug. 1, 1834, marking the day Canada's Slavery Abolition Act came into effect. Even though slavery in Canada predates Confederation, Harding-Davis has said in the past the country still benefited from its legacy.

Harding-Davis has been working on the issue for years, though the current petition has been in circulation for about a year.

"To me, it means a lifetime of struggling to uplift, promote and protect the history of African Canadian people will actually be dignified," she said.

Harding-Davis says she hopes to travel to Ottawa when the petition is presented.

Apology would 'close the chapter' on legacy of slavery in Canada: MP

Masse said the apology would mean officially closing that chapter of Canadian history, one he says is less well-known because of Canada's Underground Railroad connections.

"But even prior to [the Underground Railroad] though, in Canada people were considered property of other people because of their race," Masse said. "And so we're trying to do better about telling our stories and history.

"This is just about going back to recognize what was really true and happened. And at the same time, it shows a path forward that we actually are a better place for what we went through," Masse said. "But it has to be recognized as part of our culture, and this is the solution."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)