Did you know that prior to 1929 women in Canada were no considered “persons” in the fullest legal sense of the word?
Nearly a hundred years ago, five Alberta women, led by Emily Murphy (Alberta’s first female judge) challenged section 24 Canadian Constitution that had prevented women from being appointed to the Senate. When in 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that women were not “qualified persons”, they were not ready to give up.
These five Alberta women became known as the Famous Five: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby.
Undaunted, they resorted to a higher authority, they took their case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, England, which was then the last avenue of appeal. On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey read the Privy Council’s judgement which overruled that Supreme Court’s judgement. From now on, women were indeed persons and could by extension become Senators. Lord Sankey also noted that “The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.”
This judgement became known as the Persons Case and October 18 is now recognized as Persons Day.
This legal decision became a watershed moment in Canadian history and on February 15, 1930, Cairine Wilson became the first Canadian woman appointed to the Senate.
This case established important legal precedent it established in Canada and the British Commonwealth. It also paved the way for women in participate equally in all aspects of life in Canada. The press for equality continued as for many other women, their race, ethnicity and religion still barred them from the vote. With the introduction of the Universal Right to Vote in 1963 and the addition of the equality clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1985, the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, mental or physical disability, or gender.