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Persons Day – October 18 2012

On October 18, 1929, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England, then the appeals court for the Canadian Supreme Court, ruled that women had the right to be appointed to the Senate of Canada, become members of other federal bodies, attend university, and practice a liberal trade.

Prior to that decision, the federal government did not recognize women as “persons” with constitutional rights. Emily Murphy, a prominent suffragist and reformer spearheaded the fight, beginning in 1917, to have women declared “persons” in Canada and, therefore, eligible to serve in the Senate.

In 1927 Murphy invited four Alberta leaders – Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby – to join her in an appeal to the highest court in the British Empire. In 1929, the Privy Council ruled that women were indeed “qualified persons”, therefore eligible for appointment to the Senate.

The determination of these Famous Five achieved not only the right for women to serve in the Senate, but they and their many contributions paved the way for women to participate in other aspects of public life.

In 1960, when the federal government removed the restrictions placed on aboriginal peoples with respect to the vote, all Canadian women finally had the right to vote.

The Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case are presented annually to individual Canadians for their contributions to promote equality for women of all ages in Canada. The Awards were instituted by the Governor General in 1979 to mark the 50th anniversary of the “Persons Case”. In recognition of the world’s first International Day of the Girl which took place on October 11, 2012, two of the 2012 winners are from the youth category (15-30 years old).

In 1979, Toronto City Council commemorated the 50th anniversary of the “Persons Case” by establishing the Constance E. Hamilton Award, named after the first woman who was elected in 1920 to a municipal council in Toronto, and which honours “persons” whose actions have been significant in securing the equitable treatment of women in Toronto.

 

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