For Immediate Release
March 21, 2007

KLEES: Anniversary of Anti-Slavery Law a
Milestone in an Ongoing Struggle

(Queen's Park) Oak Ridges MPP Frank Klees, the PC Education and Citizenship; Immigration Critic today delivered the following address in the Legislature: "It is my privilege on behalf of John Tory and the Ontario PC caucus to join in the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the passage into law of the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill passed by the British Parliament on March 25, 1807, and to express our support for the motion before the House.

It is fitting that we make this commemoration on the international day for the elimination of racism, since the act of 1807 constituted an important first step in the process to combat racism effectively, a process that is ongoing and continues today. By way of historical background, it was in February 1806 that Lord Grenville, in a passionate speech before the House of Lords, argued that the slave trade was contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy. He criticized his fellow members for not having abolished the trade long ago. Thereafter, the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament.

The group of anti-slavery parliamentarians responsible for this historic act was led by the great abolitionist and member of Parliament William Wilberforce. Wilberforce committed himself to such causes as the promotion of public education and parliamentary reform, but, above all, his fame rests upon his persistent, uncompromising and single-minded crusade for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He died one month before Parliament put an end to slavery in the British dominions on August 1, 1834, which, as we know, is known as Emancipation Day.

His immediate influence was not limited to Britain alone. John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, was deeply inspired by his words and his example, so much so that in 1793, when this House came into existence at Newark, Simcoe ensured that the first bills on the order of business tabled attacked the pernicious institution of slavery in Upper Canada, almost 15 years before the act of 1807. Simcoe's efforts strengthened the resolve of Britain to finally end the enslavement of Africans in Canada and indeed throughout the British dominions on August 1, 1834.

For African-American slaves fleeing northward to Canada and to freedom, it was the Underground Railroad that became their lifeline. One of its famous conductors was Harriet Ross Tubman, who personally helped free hundreds of slaves, earning her the nickname Moses. In 1863, Harriet Tubman led an expedition during which nearly 800 slaves were brought to safety and freedom. As she liked to say, "We act up to the light we have." Today, we celebrate her as a person who made it her life's business indeed to "live up to the light" that she had.

The struggle against the slavery of Africans and racial discrimination was furthered by the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the words of Dr. Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, "Martin Luther King has come to be a symbol of freedom, social justice and equality in the world."  I would like to take this opportunity to gratefully recognize Dr. Sadlier and the Ontario Black History Society for its tireless work in promoting African heritage and culture and especially Ontario Black History Month for the past three decades.

In honour of the 200th anniversary of the act of 1807, I tabled my private member's bill to proclaim Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Ontario, and I ask all members to give it their full support when it comes before the House.

In commemorating the 200th anniversary of the act of 1807, we mark a historic milestone in the ongoing struggle against racism and racial discrimination. We celebrate the heroes of that struggle, past and present. We are, at the same time, reminded in 2007 about the need for vigilance against contemporary racism, modern-day slavery, racial and religious discrimination, and hate crimes such as anti-Semitism.

The inspiring example of our great parliamentary colleague William Wilberforce continues to light the way. I would like to close my remarks with this prayer taken from the Anglican service in his honour: "Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your church the never-failing gift of love that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor and maintain the cause of those who have no help.'"

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For further information

Frank Klees, MPP

416-325-7316

 

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