Perspective: II

As Canadians watch events unfold down south regarding the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and overall discussions about race, they pay lip service to these topics without looking inward. So here I am to point out the obvious.

Let’s start with slavery:

Canada had slavery for two centuries. While enslaving any person is an abhorrent act, enslaving Black people strikes me as particularly egregious.

Why? Down south the enslavement of Blacks was the driving force of the whole economy and building of a nation, while here in the north enslaving Aboriginals was part of the Boreal economy and sustaining the fur trade. So why enslave Blacks in Canada? Simply put: because they wanted to. Again, I must emphasize: they went out of their way to enslave Blacks when the economy didn’t depend on it.

It’s a disturbing, sobering fact which makes the enslavement all the more revolting. You might think if Blacks were down south and in short supply locally, and Aboriginals were enslaved for the Boreal economy – there should be very few Black slaves, right? Wrong. Stunningly, Black slaves still made up at least a third of all slaves! And this is despite the fact they cost double the price!

To have a Black slave was to confer prestige upon yourself, and of course to keep up with the American neighbors. Canadian slavery never reached the heights it did in the United States or South America, but this is only because Canada was a poor, sparsely populated colony which no slavers felt could finance the cost of transport and purchase. (Even France refused to send shipments.)

Canada did try however: it legalized slavery as an institution in 1709, and three authorizations to ship slaves were given upon request in 1689, 1701, and 1721. In 1733, a legal precedent was set: even though a slave was ‘Christian’, he could still be sold and purchased as a commodity. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834, and even then it was done through a British mandate and not the mandate of the Canadian people.

We’ll move along to the cover-up:

I will compare the ensuing denial to the best analogy I can conjure: imagine a wife who denies her husband has been sexually abusing their daughter. Is the denial worse than the crime itself? No. Is it as bad as the crime? Perhaps not. But is it heinous, cruel and sickening? Absolutely!

So it is here as well: enslaving Blacks purely for ego was already evil enough, but then to hide and deny the truth afterwards is heinous and repulsive! I cannot stress this point enough, it truly sickens me.

Slavery in Canada was not taught in schools. I didn’t learn of it until I was in my thirties, much to my shock. Even then it was only because I read an article about a historian’s book on the subject. The book pointed out that “generations of historians maintained a virtual conspiracy of silence about slaves owned and exploited, bought and sold, by Canadians themselves.” From the end of slavery until the 20th century … Canada simply pretended it never happened.

I’d only learned about the “Underground Railroad” and how Canada had been a safe harbor for runaway slaves (despite slavery still existing here legally).

For generations, Canadians have sanctimoniously looked down their noses at Americans because of the slave trade, Civil War, Jim Crow and racism. While Americans enslaved Blacks for economic gain, Canadians did it for prestige and ego. While Americans fought a civil war to end slavery, Canadians did it when the British Empire abolished it. While Americans celebrated heroes such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Canadians hid from the truth and lied to generations of the nation’s children. Then they had the gall to proclaim themselves superior!

And the racism carried on. In 1870, Hiram Revels was the first Black member of the Senate and Joseph Rainey was the first Black member of the House of Representatives (during the Reconstruction Era). In contrast, Canada’s first Black member of Parliament was Lincoln Alexander in 1968. The first “Black” (biracial) U.S. President was elected in 2009, while Canada has never had a biracial or non-white Prime Minister.

And the racism carried on. The Ku Klux Klan was openly acknowledged as a part of American history, but Canada’s KKK was never acknowledged: hidden and whitewashed out of existence until only recently by mainstream media, authors and the nation.

While everyone here knows about segregation in the American south, fewer know of segregation in Canada’s east coast provinces. Fewer still know that Canada was also segregated in law and/or practice; the last segregated school in Ontario closed in 1965, the last one in Nova Scotia closed in 1983.

And the racism carried on: through racist laws which were effected because Canadians considered Blacks inferior and undesirable. There was: Section 38 of the 1910 Immigration Act, the Black Immigration Ban in 1911, various court rulings in favor of segregation, all among other things.

Why are they so racist? A curious question …

Racism cannot be justified, but there’s usually some historical context for bigotry and prejudice. For example in the United States – due to marginalization and deprivation – many Black people became associated with ghettos, the drug trade and gang culture. Although being forced into these situations wasn’t their fault, the general context became justification for present bigoted views and continued racist sentiments.

Going back to an earlier time: slavery and its aftermath created a societal hierarchy in which Black Americans were viewed as inferior to generations of white citizens.

In Canada, the case was paralleled by Aboriginals: originally slaves then segregated from society, confined to tiny reserves, ‘educated’ at residential schools and left in poverty and dysfunction. Being forced into these situations wasn’t their fault, but overall dysfunction from generational trauma became the context for present bigoted views. Canadians (like their American counterparts) label their undesired group as ‘welfare bums, degenerates, lazy, uneducated, criminals, thugs, moochers’ and so on.

If Canadian Aboriginals are akin to Black Americans, then so it’s reversed in another parallel: Black Canadians and their history are conveniently ignored and forgotten, much like Native Americans in the U.S. This was my working theory, however it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny …

Some Americans admire and respect their Indigenous nations, others with racist views may sneer at them, but mostly they are forgotten and ignored – especially in comparison to African Americans. Generally speaking, it can be said hatred is not present.

Year after year, decade after decade – Black Canadians have been the number one target of hate crimes. This is astonishing when you take into consideration the fact they represent only 3% of the Canadian population. Also consider the context: a third of slaves (a reduced history of slavery), small numbers, no real large immigration influxes, and a lack of criminality which is usually associated with Aboriginals.

In fact it looked so bad that Statistics Canada has stopped taking down the relevant information on individual races. It has never compiled federal statistical data on other issues (police shootings, murders, crime data, etc) so as to avoid the topic completely. One could never compare Black issues in Canada against the United States because the nation collectively refused to compile any data which could prove its racism.

Some can be gleaned from localized records, media reports and so on. One news study showed that Black Canadians made up 9% of police shootings despite being 3% of the population. Only this year (2020) has discussion taken place about compiling race-based data on police shootings and other subjects.

In the United States there is a long history of injustice and searing pain, which remains raw. Canada has always looked on with hypocritical disdain while not even admitting the truth about its own history and racism. Now it begins to confront it – only thanks to the United States.

It would have been great if Canada had taken the initiative, but as usual it waited until the Black Lives Matter movement erupted in the United States and then copied the protests and self-reflection so as not to be left behind. NOW the government releases a statement, NOW the media saturates with news stories and programs, NOW people begin inquiring into the past and the cover-ups. (I guess better late than never.)

And Canadians wring their hands; the media admonishes us “there is racism in Canada too!” Individuals and groups proclaim and exclaim; while doing so they also congratulate themselves on their ‘voluntary’ introspection. Swallowed down is the sanctimony and schadenfreude they usually indulge in while looking south … at least for now.

The questions remain: Why are they so racist? And what will they really do about it?

What I would like to see from the Canadian government, media and people, an acknowledgement:

That you are as racist as Americans.

That there has been less violence because there has been less immigration and fewer minorities generally throughout Canada’s existence.

That Black Canadians are particularly singled out for hatred with little historical context as a back drop.

That you have purposefully refused to compile data which proves the disparity and racism.

That ignoring slavery, your history and the past has been a heinous act which merits an apology by the state.

That there is no greater act of contempt than to refuse to admit past crimes: in this sense you minimize wrongdoing, negate the suffering, disallow survivors to become heroes, and most importantly preempt future change.

That you understand and admit all these things openly, and not simply pay lip service to change while making empty gestures and pronouncements.

Truly look inward instead of putting on a show (feeding the ego, starving the soul).


Post Script: More Thoughts

Crime and violence against African Americans is often used in comparison with Canada, the obvious inference being that Canadians are by and large less violent and being Black in Canada would’ve been better. I’m not sure I buy this argument.

Generally speaking, Aboriginals can expect worse treatment and living conditions than Black Americans. The murder rate of Black Americans is significantly higher, but this can be attributed mainly to the drug trade in inner cities.

The United States is one of the most populated nations in the world, and is also linked by land to Mexico. Both these factors contribute to the national drug trade, and historic impoverishment of Black communities explains their connection.

As of 2016, Canada’s Aboriginal population sat at nearly 5%. Despite this low percentage (at a historic high) their overall conditions are as bad or worse than Black Americans – who account for 13% of the American population. Also include the fact that half of Aboriginals live in remote areas and on reserves.

If it’s this bad now, what would it be like if they were 13% and lived in cities?* And if Black Canadians are treated this way now, how would they fare at 13% and if slavery had been a larger industry historically?

There’s no doubt that violence against Black Americans has been worse overall than Black Canadians, but I feel it’s due to context. If the situations were reversed I don’t believe Canadians would have been any better – most likely worse.

*Look at Winnipeg and Thunder Bay as examples.

Remember When? … #hangingofangelique

Remember When is a new series of posts where we take a look back at some of the funny, bizarre and downright disturbing incidents in Canada’s past.

Since cakers like to judge everyone else (particularly Americans) and point out their historic wrong-doings, it’s time to take a mirror to these incompetent hypocrites. Enjoy!


Marie-Joseph Angelique

Marie was a badass forgotten by virtually everyone in Canada until only recently; remembered vaguely by a few historians and celebrated as a figure of Black resistance by Canada’s Black population (at less than 3%).

She was born in 1705 in Portugal, enslaved and later brought to North America. After arriving in New England she was purchased by a Montreal man, who brought her back to his hometown to work as his slave. After he died, Marie-Joseph carried on in service to his widow who gave her the name “Angelique”. She took a white indentured laborer named Claude Thibault as her lover.

She asked her owner for freedom and was denied, so she started raising hell: talking back, threatening death, fighting with other servants and claiming she’d burn shit down. Being a nuisance, she was sold to a Quebec City man in exchange for 600 pounds of gun powder. But before she could be relocated she set fire to her bed and ran away with Thibault. They were caught and returned.

One evening a portion of Montreal caught fire and Angelique was blamed for setting it.

“Angélique was accused of starting the fire and arrested by police on 11 April. She was taken to court the following morning, where she was charged with arson, a capital crime punishable by death, torture or banishment.

In the French legal system of the 18th century, the accused was presumed guilty, and in New France, there were no trials by jury, only inquisitorial tribunals in which the defendant was meant to prove her innocence. Lawyers were banned from practicing in the colony by Louis XIV.”

She was brought before the tribunal where witnesses testified she’d previously threatened to burn things. After six weeks she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

She was to have her hands cut off and be burned alive. The sentence was appealed to the superior court in Québec City, where the death penalty was upheld and the gruesome aspects of the sentencing lessened. Angélique would be tortured, hanged, and then her body burned. She returned to Montréal to await her death.

In June of 1734, the twenty-nine year old woman was tortured in her jail cell. She broke down and “confessed” to the crime but refused to name her lover as a co-conspirator. Afterwards she was taken by garbage cart to the down town church, forced to make a public apology and beg for forgiveness; she was then hanged.

Slavery would last for over 200 years in Canada, its history intentionally hidden and forgotten for generations. If there is one person who puts a face, name, and story to all the Blacks who were enslaved, it is Marie-Joseph Angelique. She did not roll over and endure her slavery with resignation, but demanded her freedom and attempted to take it.


The Hanging of Angelique

“Writer, historian and poet Afua Cooper tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734 and condemned to die a brutal death.

In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story—now supported by archival illustrations—Cooper builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her indentured servitude. At the same time, Cooper completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200- year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery.”


Of course in Canada we learn all about the crusty, old, racist white men who helped found this nation, but not the freedom-loving bad asses who tried to escape it!

Post Script:

The majority of the book provides historical context for Angelique’s time and the events which led up to it. Her story compromises the ending, and details are scarce due to minimal records. I’m glad that I know it. There is also a great list of slavery narratives in the epilogue (and an introduction to Fado music).

Slavery in Canada

From Globe & Mail:

“Canadians appalled by the violence in the Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave probably also feel proud that the carpenter who helps Solomon Northup regain his freedom is Canadian (and played by Brad Pitt). We’ve all heard that Canada’s only role in the slave trade was to hasten its end; but long before the underground railroad got started, colonial Canada was a safe place to buy, sell and own slaves.

For about two centuries, slavery was legal in New France, and in Lower Canada under British rule. Captive human beings were owned by people from almost every level of society, including governors, bishops, military officers, merchants, priests, blacksmiths and tailors. James McGill, founder of McGill University, had slaves. So did Marguerite d’Youville, the Grey Nuns founder who was canonized in 1990.

The shocking details are all laid out in a book by Quebec historian Marcel Trudel that has just appeared in an English-language paperback as Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage. Mr. Trudel, who died in 2011, shreds our national myth about slavery by naming hundreds of eminent and ordinary Quebeckers who were eager to get slaves and proud to flaunt them before their neighbours. People went into debt to buy them.


“Slavery in Quebec was not some economic imperative, but rather a form of public extravagance which conferred prestige,” Mr. Trudel writes. In 18th-century Quebec, whose boundaries reached into parts of what is now the United States, a slave was a status symbol, more often found in town than in the country, more likely to be a domestic servant than a field labourer.

Mr. Trudel provoked a scandal in Quebec in 1960 when he first published his revelations as  L’esclavage au Canada français. Generations of historians and church leaders had nurtured the myth that slavery, if it had existed at all, had been imported into the province by the English after the conquest of 1760. In fact, 85 per cent of Mr. Trudel’s confirmed owners were francophones, and the Quebec slave trade was well established before Wolfe met Montcalm. Nobody could refute Mr. Trudel’s careful research, so he was ostracized professionally, and in 1965 left his post at the University of Laval for a less frosty berth at the University of Ottawa.

The number of slaves Mr. Trudel could confirm from archival records was relatively small – about 4,200 in all, compared with the 250,000 who toiled in the French West Indies in the mid-1700s. Canadians never knew slavery on an industrial scale, only because they never convinced big-time slave traders that it was worth sending African slaves on the longer shipping route to Montreal or Quebec City.


Many in Quebec had to be content with captives stolen or bought from indigenous peoples, some of whom practiced slavery before the Europeans arrived. About two-thirds of the slaves in Quebec were native people, mostly from the Pawnee nations of modern-day Nebraska, whose French Canadian name – Panis – became a synonym for an indigenous slave of any origin. Black slaves were known as bois d’ébène (ebony wood), or pièce d’Inde if they were in prime condition. Blacks, being harder to get, were about double the cost of indigenous merchandise. Slaves of all kinds were sold at auctions and advertised in newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette, which had slaves in its print shop.

The House of Assembly in Lower Canada dithered for years in the late 1700s over motions to abolish slavery, probably because several members would have been directly inconvenienced. But the last recorded slave sale in Quebec occurred in 1797, and Britain abolished slavery in most of its empire in 1833, just as traffic on the underground railroad to Canada was nearing its peak.

In the decades since Mr. Trudel’s book first appeared, a secular form of Quebec nationalism has found its own reasons to forget the province’s slave-trading history. Montreal historian and journalist George Tombs, translator of the revised edition of Mr. Trudel’s book into English, got a good demonstration of the new amnesia when he mentioned his project to an acquaintance who happened to be a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister.

“He got quite annoyed, and said ‘You shouldn’t be translating that book!’” Mr. Tombs recalls. “His problem basically was that it would give a bad image of Quebec. Pauline Marois has been saying that we have to make sure that everyone knows national history, but there’s a big part of national history they’re not going to learn.”


That doesn’t explain why Mr. Trudel’s pioneering book had to wait more than 50 years to become available in English. Mr. Tombs says it’s partly because Canadians are accustomed to getting our history “in little bits and pieces, depending on which region the historian is from and which political agenda the historian is pursuing.”

Several historians have written more recent papers and books that focus narrowly on slavery in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Upper Canada, where loyalists from the American colonies often arrived with their human chattels. What’s still needed, Mr. Tombs says, is a broader telling of the Canadian slavery story that we can all come to grips with. If, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, Canadians need to know their history better, they should know the bad bits, too.”


“Many enslaved Black people in Upper Canada fled to free regions in the United States, including the former Northwest Territory (which included parts of what is now Michigan and Ohio), Vermont, and New York — states that banned slavery in 1777 and 1799, respectively. Dozens of runaway slave ads were published in newspapers in Canada and the newly formed United States. The ads included detailed descriptions of an escapee’s physical appearance, the clothes they were wearing and the languages he or she spoke.”

Canadian Encyclopedia

More information:

“Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Centuries of Bondage” by Marcel Trudel (Amazon)

Black Enslavement in Canada (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada (Ontario Archives)

Since Canadian history is white washed to an extended degree, most cakers believe that Canada didn’t allow slavery. Growing up I was taught about the Underground Railroad, but not that any slaves had been permitted in Canada. It’s only in the last few years that more honest discussions have been taking place among the general public.