In March 2021 the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously to recognise August 1 as Emancipation Day commemorating the date the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into effect throughout the British Empire.
Emancipation is also celebrated in a slew of countries across North America, Africa and the Bahamas, with the first observance occurring in Trinidad and Tobago in 1985.
While slavery was always illegal in Australia, this is one of the single biggest leaps forward in human history. It’s time to celebrate it here as well.
It also offers an opportunity for repentance as well as celebration. It is a pivot point where the British Empire, of which Australia is an heir, starts to redeem itself.
It also ushers in the modern era of human rights and enforceable international law.
First some historical context.
We take it for granted that human rights are universal, but for most of history that has not been the case.
The most telling marker of that is there is not one inhabited continent in the world where slavery was not practiced at some time and over long periods.
The societies we most admire from antiquity, the Romans and Greeks, were both slave societies, with slave ownership in ancient Athens similar in its extent to car ownership today.
Both North and South America had slave economies before Europeans arrived, and after their arrival the Transatlantic Slave Trade powered plantations throughout the region.
China had slavery under the Qing Dynasty, and the Mughals practiced it in India. Africans enslaved Africans and some of the highest-ranking advisors in the Ottoman Empire were slaves.
The Vikings, and their descendants in Kyivan Rus, in what is now Ukraine, were prolific slavers in Eastern Europe to the extent that their predations gave rise to the ethnic term “Slavs” or slaves.
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