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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

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.


At 4:44 p.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Philip--I love reading your renditions of Canadian history. It enriches me.
Thank you.

At 4:49 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

From Alberta you say? You mean they used to be progressive there? :)

At 10:01 a.m., Blogger Owen Gray said...

It's easy to forget that women only recently got the franchise.

And the story of the five should remind us that our democracy is still incomplete.

If teens can drive at sixteen and serve in the armed forces at seventeen, they should also have the right to vote.

At 9:14 a.m., Blogger possum said...

We just got done redistricting here in VA, a trick that will keep many from voting in the next election and will benefit the Republicans.

Native Americans have not done well with voting rights, either.
Did you know that The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave them the right to vote, but in 1956 the State of Utah became the last State to grant that right.

Many states, including, New Mexico overtly did not allow Native Americans to vote until 1962.
Which is abysmal given that New Mexico has a large Native population


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