Aug. 5, 2021

Emancipation II – Slavery is older than colonialism

Our federal government’s attempt to connect emancipation to the English (British) laws outlawing the slave trade and later slavery ignores relevant Canadian history separate from British laws and their impact on her colonies of the time.

Slavery in what is now Canada dates back to the early 1600s. In the early 17th century, colonizers in New France practiced chattel slavery, in which people were treated as personal property that could be bought, sold, traded and inherited.

The first slaves in New France were Indigenous people, a large percentage of whom came from the Pawnee Nation in present-day Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas. Many were captured during war and sold to other Indigenous nations or European traders.

Some French colonists acquired enslaved Black people through private sales, and some received Indigenous and African slaves as gifts from Indigenous allies. Out of approximately 4,200 slaves in New France at the peak of slavery, about 2,700 were Indigenous people enslaved until 1783, and at least 1,443 were Black people enslaved between the late 1600s and 1831.

On 13 April 1709, Intendant Jacques Raudot passed a colonial law entitled Ordinance Rendered on the Subject of the Negroes and the Indians called Panis. It legalized the purchase and possession of slaves in New France and further solidified the practice of enslavement. It was the first official legislation on slavery in New France. Black enslavement was reinforced by the following French king, Louis XV, who made two proclamations about slavery in the 1720s and one more in 1745.

When the British conquered New France in 1760, the Articles of Capitulation, signed at the surrender of Montréal on 8 September 1760, included a specific clause on enslavement. Article XLVII stated:

The Negroes and panis (Indigenous) of both sexes shall remain, in their quality of slaves, in the possession of the French and Canadians to whom they belong; they shall be at liberty to keep them in their service in the colony, or to sell them; and they may also continue to bring them up in the Roman Religion.
— “Granted, except those who shall have been made prisoners.”

This clause stated that French inhabitants would not lose their slave property under the British regime and reinforced enslavement as legal under British rule. Article XLVII also illustrates that there were enough enslaved people in New France to warrant a separate clause in the capitulation of an entire colony.

After the British were defeated in the American Revolution (1775 - 1783), the number of enslaved Africans in British North America increased significantly. To encourage White American settlers to immigrate north, the government passed the Imperial Statute of 1790, which allowed United Empire Loyalists to bring in “negros [sic], household furniture, utensils of husbandry, or cloathing [sic]” duty-free. By law, such chattel could not be sold for one year after entering the colonies.

During the American Revolutionary War, thousands of free or enslaved Black people fought for the British, hoping to gain their freedom along with the promise of land. By 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, British forces and their allies fled to locations such as Europe, the West Indies (the Caribbean) and the Province of Québec (divided in 1791 into Upper Canada and Lower Canada). Between 1783 and 1785, more than 3,000 free Blacks or formerly enslaved people settled in Nova Scotia, where they faced hostility, racial segregation, low-paying jobs and inequality.

There is much more of this fascinating history of slavery in Canada to read: HERE and HERE. 

There are two points I wish to make:

First, Indigenous people and other minorities were involved in slavery. Slavery is not a product of colonialism and was active in North America outside of the New France and New England colonies. Tribes have warred from the dawn of time, and captives were either killed or enslaved.

The second and more important point is that slavery still flourishes. We don’t want to admit that, so we employ language to disguise slavery. Human trafficking is a euphemism for slavery. The most significant part of human trafficking is to satisfy the sex trade. Girls and young women are lured by offers of jobs as models, separated from their family and friends and then drugged, abused, demeaned and threatened into slavery of providing sexual services. It is an ugly scar on our society.

There is still a thriving business in labour slavery. Men and women are coerced into a free passage to developed nations and well-paying jobs. During their passage, slavers confiscate their passports and papers. After landing, slavers inform their new assets they owe the cost of transportation and are put to work under poor conditions for low wages with the threat that failure to comply will result in arrest and imprisonment by the local police.

Slavery is a profitable business, and profits are high enough to warrant the risks of arrest. For further information, contact the Joy Smith Foundation.

Please do not allow minority activists with agendas to twist history and claim that slavery is a product of colonialism. Sadly, slavery has been a part of our history worldwide and practiced at some time in most nations.

There are few nations or tribes that can claim immunity from past involvement in slavery.

The notion that we can erase the past by destroying statues and erasing names from buildings and streets is ridiculous.

We need to stop demeaning others because they look, sound or seem different.

We must employ the compassion, empathy and respect that heal communities and nations.