Persons Day

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Persons Day is an annual celebration in Canada, held on October 18 each year. The day commemorates the case of Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), more commonly known as The Persons Case–a famous Canadian constitutional case decided on October 18, 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council, at that time the court of last resort for Canada, which held that women were eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate.

While not a civic holiday, several women's groups across Canada make significant note of the day, including The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund[1] and The Canadian Voters Congress[2]


It was in the 1900s when the Canadian west experienced a great deal of change. In Alberta, it changed from a rural to urban population.[3] However, this created a great deal of problems. Men outnumbered women, causing social problems such as alcohol abuse and prostitution. This only seemed to make women more motivated. They not only tried to fix the society in which they belonged but also wanted a role in politics. It was in the year 1916, that Alberta passed legislation granting women the right to vote.[4] However, there seemed to be an issue with the word Person in the federal act. For some persons is used when talking about more than one person and he is used when talking about one person. This caused the issue that the Act was really saying that only a man could be a person, which was preventing women from participating fully in politics or affairs of state.[5]

The Famous Five[edit]

Persons Day simply would not exist if it was not for the famous five women who were responsible for making women included in the word person. These five women include Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. Each and every one of these five ladies have each contributed to the legal system in one way. Emily Murphy, is the one who led the case in 1927, was the first woman in the British Empire to be appointed magistrate in 1916.[6] McClung was the first woman on the CBC Board of Governors and a representative to the League of Nations.[7] Louise McKinney was the first woman sworn into the Alberta Legislature and in the British Empire.[8] Parlby who was also in the Alberta Legislature, helped pass 18 bills, which helped women and children, and also was the second woman cabinet minister in the British Empire.[9] Lastly was Henrietta Edwards who is known for establishing the National Council of Women in 1890.[10] Each of these women have very qualified backgrounds which was important for winning the Persons Case. Each had their own positions in the legal system making them aware and knowledge for the fight for woman.

Persons Case[edit]

The Persons Case honours the five Alberta women that later lead to the victory of Canadian women's equality.[11] Not only did this give rights to women serving in the senate but also to participate in daily life activities. Those five women go by the names of Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edward. It was in 1927 when these ladies went to the Supreme Court of Canada to get an answer as to why women were not included in the word person according to the B.N.A. Act [12] However, this debate took over five weeks and the court ruled that women were not going to be included in the word person. Due to their determination this only motivated these women more. Their next step was to go to London to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain.[13] During this time, this was seen as the biggest court appeal. On October 18, 1929, two years later, their answer to this famous question was, "why should it not" [14] This not only helped women have a place in the senate but also gave women more rights and equality.

In 1979, on the 50th anniversary of the Privy Council's decision, the Government of Canada instituted the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case to recognize outstanding contributions to advance equality for women in Canada. The Awards are presented annually at a ceremony on Persons Day.[15] People of merit can be nominated annually.[16] Five of these are individuals where the other one is a youth[citation needed]. These individuals are honored for their contributions towards their goal of gender equality.[17]


External links[edit]

Scholars in