October 18 was "Persons" Day in Canada. The moniker arises from the Edwards, et al case, decided 82 years ago, in which the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), the then highest Appellate Court for Canada, defined women as "persons." This decision gave women the right to sit in the Senate. A right previously, and vigorously denied to women. The five women, who through their tenacity and will-power, appealed this case, are now known as the "Famous Five." In celebration of their achievements, equality rights for women is celebrated throughout Canada. Through their actions, they have inspired many.
There is no doubt the result of this achievement was a crucial and watershed moment for women's rights. There is no doubt the effect of this fight was also an important moment in Canadian law as Lord Sankey's decision brought the concept of our Constitution Act of 1867 into a modern and fruitful interpretation. One that is reflected today in our Charter. However, as with all "celebrities" there is another side to this story.
These women were politically powerful. Emily Murphy was a Magistrate, Nellie McClung was a Member of the Alberta legislature, and Louise McKinney was an active member of the Temperance movement. In short, they were important women who were personally affronted by gender inequality. Their fight did not include the concept of equality for all minorities or vulnerable groups. Indeed, their fight was for equal rights for women like them; politically powerful and of British descent. Indeed, Emily Murphy, held what we would categorize as, racist views, particularly towards Asian-Canadians and Afro-Canadians. Just read, if you can stand to, her book entitled Black Candle.
However, this does not mean we should not celebrate this moment or event. A quick glance at the celebratory events held throughout Canada show a remarkable array of events involving women of all nationalities and ethnicities. This is the true legacy of the Persons case.
Yes, women are people too but so are Aboriginal women, and Asian-Canadian women, and Afro-Canadian women, and thankfully and proudly the list goes on. So next year, I will celebrate this seminal moment by pausing for a moment and cheering for all women of all backgrounds in our country.