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A just society can be defined as a society that treats its people with equality and respect. A just society is a society that gives everyone an equal opportunity in life. Black Canadians have faced oppression for many years and there are a plethora of infamous incidents in which they were fiercely discriminated against. One of the most infamous incidents of racism in Canada was the Africville incident. Africville consisted of mostly black people. The earliest settlers of Africville were black loyalists who arrived in Halifax seeking refuge from America after the War of 1812. These settlers, however, lived in poor conditions and had dealt with great suffering. Therefore Canada was not a just society because the people of Africville were discriminated against, the government treated the people of Africville in an unethical manner, and the citizens had been disenfranchised by the government.
Africville citizens were fiercely discriminated against by the government. Firstly, Africville was forced to take and accept facilities that were not wanted by others all because they were black and were viewed as inferior to white Canadians. This happened in 1884, in which the Canadian government built unwanted facilities that were not wanted by the white communities of Halifax. These facilities included a prison, a slaughterhouse, and an infectious disease hospital. The reason why these people were forced to take these facilities was because no other community in Halifax, which consisted of predominantly white people, wanted these facilities. Africville was filled with black people and were not viewed as equals to white people and were thus forced to take these facilities which is an example of blatant racism. Secondly, despite paying taxes, the people of Africville were not given basic amenities. The government did not give the people of Africville access to water, sewage, paved roads, police services, and ambulance and firetruck services. The reason why these people did not receive these amenities was because they were predominately black and were not viewed with respect by the government. This is yet another example of blatant racism. Lastly, the people of Africville faced racism when trying to get jobs. Early black loyalists were marginalized to the outskirts. Outside of Africville, black men had very limited jobs, and women could only serve as domestic maids. As a result, all of the people of Africville lived in poverty. Once again, the mainstream Halifax society did not treat these people with equality and respect. The people of Africville can, once again, be seen as discriminated against. In conclusion, the people of Africville were not viewed with equality and respect and were thus discriminated against.
Another reason why Canada was not a just society during this time period is because the treatment of the people of Africville by the Canadian Government was done in an unethical manner. The government had committed many unlawful and unethical acts against the people of Africville. The first unethical act done by the government was forced industrial expansion. The Government of Halifax had been thinking about using the land for industry for quite some time. As a result, they ignored the demands of the people. The government, in this case, can be seen as greedy. The government only cared about their own pursuits and as a result, forced industrial expansion on the town. This is clearly unethical because they denied these people necessities for their own selfish pursuits. They also forced industrial expansion without the consent or opinion of the people of Africville which is also unethical. The second unethical act done by the government was the forced removal and relocation of the people of Africville. After forcing industrial expansion on them for so long, the government decided that they might as well take all the land for industrial purposes. As a result, they forced out the people of Africville. There were also accounts of intimidation and bribery used to expropriate their land. This forced removal without consent is unethical because it does not consider the Africville citizens’ perspective and demands. Using bribery and intimidation to force someone into submission is also highly unethical. Lastly, the government had surrounded Africville with hazardous facilities. The government had created a landfill just a few meters away from the town’s houses and its church. There was also an infectious disease hospital placed near Africville. These facilities were unwanted, dirty, and dangerous facilities. The government had put these facilities here because they didn’t want other communities to get exposed to these health hazards. Once again, forcing a community to take unwanted facilities filled with toxic waste and hazards is unethical. In conclusion, the Government of Halifax’s treatment of the people of Africville was unethical and should be taken into account when determining whether or not Canada was a just society.
The last reason why Canada cannot be considered a just society is because the Canadian government had disenfranchised the people of Africville. A community that is disenfranchised is a community that has lost basic human rights and privileges. The first proof is that the people of Africville were denied education. The people of Africville were not given access to education and were ultimately forced to create their own school independent from the government. The school had self-taught teachers and it closed after desegregation. After desegregation, the kids of Africville could finally attend government-funded schools. The problem, however, was that these kids were put into low-level classes in which there was no hope for a real future. In this scenario, the people of Africville were denied the basic right to education which is a basic human right here in Canada. The second instance of the government depriving these people of basic human rights is the series of events that occurred after the Halifax Explosion. The Halifax explosion occurred on December 6, 1917, and it had destroyed a chunk of Africville. The Halifax Relief Commission was created as a result and its job was to administer funds and supplies to help reconstruct the city. Africville, however, was ignored and not given any aid or humanitarian help. These Africville citizens were denied basic services by the government and were not given any aid or payment to help with reconstruction. These people were denied the basic right to basic humanitarian aid. Lastly, the people of Africville were not viewed as people and their voices did not matter to anyone. After being denied basic services, the residents of Africville set up petitions for basic amenities and to stop the expropriation of their land, but it was of no use. Their petitions for everything were denied and they were not viewed as people. They were seen as a slump by not only the government but all of Halifax during this time period. Once again, the government completely ignored the Africville residents’ petitions and attempts for change. The government just did what they pleased. They were not seen as humans and their voices did not matter. They weren’t exactly denied the right to protest but they were ignored which defeats the purpose of the protest. In summary, the Canadian government had deprived these people of basic human rights.
In conclusion, Canada was not a just society because the people of Africville were discriminated against, the government treated the people of Africville in an unethical manner, and the citizens of Africville had been disenfranchised by the government. The people of Africville were refugees from America and came to Halifax thinking they were going to live a better life. Once they arrived in Halifax, however, they were marginalized to the outskirts and formed what was known as Africville. Africville residents experienced a lot of discrimination. The people of Africville were denied basic amenities and the community was seen as a slump by all of Halifax. Eventually, the government decided that it wanted to use the land for industry and thus forced the people out using both bribery and intimidation. Overall, the people of Africville were heavily discriminated against and were not treated fairly. This entire situation should never be forgotten. Black people had faced oppression in Canada for many years and this is perhaps the most infamous incident of blatant racism in Canada. Therefore, Canada was not a just society due to their treatment of the people of Africville.
- Tattrie, Jon , “Africville”. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published January 27, 2014; last modified January 30, 2019. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/africville
- Gale, Thomson”Africville (Canada).” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/africville-canada
- Nelson, Jennifer J. “The Space of Africville: Creating, Regulating and Remembering the Urban ‘Slum.’” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 15, no. 2 (2000): 163–85. doi:10.1017/S0829320100006402.
- McRae, Matthew. “The Story of Africville.” CMHR. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://humanrights.ca/story/the-story-of-africville.
- Hux, Alla et. al. “Think HIstory: Canadian HIstory Since 1914. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc, 2016.
- “The Story.” Africville Heritage Trust. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://africvillemuseum.org/the-community-of-africville/the-story/.
- Allen, Denise. “Africville: The Case for Compensation.” Africville Genealogy Society. Published September 20, 2003. Accessed May 28, 2019.
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