Canadian Women Declared "Persons"
"[T]heir Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word "persons" in sec. 24 includes members both of the male and female sex and that, therefore, ... women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada, and they will humbly advise His Majesty accordingly."
With this judgement in October 1929 of the Privy Council of the British government, Canadian women were declared "persons" allowing women to be appointed to the Canadian Senate which was according the the British North American Act (the British law that established Canada). Until this ruling "persons" for the purpose of this act only referred to men and excluded women.
A group of five women has taken a case to the Canadian Supreme Court to have "persons" declared to mean women as well as men. The Supreme Court in 1927 upheld the traditional view that "persons" for the purpose of the BNA Act did not refer to women. As a result, the case was appealed to the British Privy Council, who in their lordly wisdom overruled the Supreme Court of Canada and declared the reference in the Act referred to women as well as men.
Five years later a woman was appointed to the Senate for the first time. Agnes MacPhail had been the first woman elected to the House of Commons in 1921 shortly after women won the vote in Canada.
Another outcome of this case was the acceptance of the "living tree doctrine" in applying judgments of the Supreme Court by recognizing the Constitution as an organic concept that must respond and change with the times.
The five women who pursued this case were a remarkable social activist bunch. Most of them were from Alberta. In Calgary today there is an identical statue to the one outside parliament in Ottawa ( part of which is seen below.)
Part of the Statue to the five women who won the "persons" case
Here seated are Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir sharing a cuppa tea
The other remarkable women of the "Famous Five", involved in this suit were Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby and Nellie Mooney McClung. All Canadians owe these accomplished women a great honour for advancing the state of our parliament democracy.
Whenever I think of or read about this historic decision I remind myself that this did not make our democracy complete. Chinese were denied the vote until 1947 and prison inmates did not get the vote until 2002 . I think it is important that a democracy seek to expand the right to vote. There has been a history of expanding the franchise.
This differs from the United States where is a long history of efforts to expand the franchise while at the same time there are those who creatively try to limit it. ( eg, fewer polling booths in poor districts and more in wealthy districts, attempts to deny citizenship to children born in the US whose parents are illegal immigrants, gerrymandering, literacy tests, untrustworth voting machines, etc.) I look forward to the day when the voting age in Canada is lowered to 16.