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National Person’s Day
October 18, 2020
From Status of Women Canada
“October 18th marks the day in 1929 when the historic decision to include women in the definition of “persons” was handed down by Canada’s highest court of appeal. In Canada, the British North America Act of 1867 set out the powers & responsibilities of the provinces and of the federal government. The Act used the word “persons” when referring to more than one person and the word “he” when referring to one person. Many argued the Act implicitly stated that only a man could be a person, which prevented women from participating fully in politics or affairs of state. In 1927, the Famous Five—Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Henrietta Muir Edwards & Irene Parlby—went to the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether the word “person” in Section 24 of the Act included female persons.
The Supreme Court decided that the word “person” did not include women. The Famous Five did not give up the fight though and took their case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain in London, which was then Canada’s highest court of appeal.
On October 18th, 1929, Lord Sankey, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, announced the decision: “The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who ask why the word ‘person’ should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not.”