|Edwards v Canada (AG)|
|Court||Judicial Committee of the Privy Council|
|Decided||October 18, 1929|
|Citation(s)|| A.C. 124, 1929 UKPC 86.|
|Prior action(s)||Reference re Meaning of the Word "Persons" in s. 24 of the BNA Act,  SCR 276|
|Appealed from||Supreme Court of Canada|
|Judges sitting||Lord Sankey, L.C.|
Sir Lancelot Sanderson
|Decision by||Lord Sankey|
Edwards v Canada (AG)—also known as the Persons Case—is a famous Canadian constitutional case that decided in 1928 that women were eligible to sit in the Senate of Canada. The legal case, put forward by the Government of Canada on the lobbying of a group of women known as the Famous Five, began as a reference case in the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that women were not "qualified persons" and thus ineligible to sit in the Senate. The case then went to the Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council, at that time the court of last resort for Canada within the British Empire and Commonwealth. The Judicial Committee overturned the Supreme Court's decision.
The Persons Case was a landmark case in two respects. The case established that Canadian women were eligible to be appointed senators and also established that the Canadian constitution should be interpreted in a way that was more consistent with the needs of society.
Some saw the eligibility of women for the senate as "radical change"; others saw it as a restoration of the original framing of the English constitutional documents, including the Bill of Rights 1689, which uses only the term "person", not the term "man" (or "woman" for that matter).
Some others have interpreted the Privy Council rule as causing a change in the Canadian judicial approach to the Canadian constitution, an approach that has come to be known as the living tree doctrine . This is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation that says that a constitution is organic and must be read in a broad and liberal manner so as to adapt it to changing times.
In 1916, Emily Murphy, a well-known activist for women's rights, and a group of other women attempted to attend a trial of Alberta women accused of prostitution. She and the rest of the group of women were ejected from the trial on the grounds that the testimony was "not fit for mixed company". Emily Murphy was outraged and appealed to Charles Wilson Cross, the Attorney General of Alberta, arguing, "If the evidence is not fit to be heard in mixed company, then ... the government ... [must] set up a special court presided over by women, to try other women." Much to her surprise, the minister not only agreed, but appointed her as the magistrate. On her first day on the job, however, her authority to preside as a judge was challenged by a lawyer on the basis that women were not considered to be "persons" under the British North America Act . In 1917, the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women were persons. Some time later, Emily Murphy tested the issue in the rest of Canada by allowing her name to be put forward to Prime Minister Robert Borden as a candidate for Canadian Senator. He rejected her on the grounds that women were not "persons". In response to a petition signed by nearly 500,000 Canadians that asked that she be appointed to the Senate, Borden stated that he was willing to do so, but could not on the basis of an 1876 British common law ruling that stated that "women were eligible for pains and penalties, but not rights and privileges".
Some years later, Emily Murphy asked four other prominent Albertan women to join her in a petition to the federal government on the issue of women's status. On August 27, 1927, the four other women (Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards) joined her for tea at her house. The five women, later to be known as the Famous Five (or the Valiant Five) all signed the petition, asking the federal government to refer two questions relating to women's status to the Supreme Court of Canada. The two questions were:
- I. Is power vested in the Governor-General in Council of Canada, or the Parliament of Canada, or either of them, to appoint a female to the Senate of Canada?
- II. Is it constitutionally possible for the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of the British North America Act, or otherwise, to make provision for the appointment of a female to the Senate of Canada?
In Canada, the federal government has the power to refer questions to the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify legal and constitutional issues.Ernest Lapointe, who was Minister of Justice in the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, reviewed the petition and recommended to the federal Cabinet that the questions be narrowed down from two to one, relating to the appointment of women to the federal Senate of Canada under section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867 ).
On October 19, 1927, the Cabinet submitted this question for clarification to the Supreme Court of Canada:
Does the word "Persons" in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?
Emily Murphy, speaking for the five petitioners, originally objected to this change in the wording of the question, which she described in a letter to the Deputy Minister of Justice as "a matter of amazement and perturbation to us".On behalf of the petitioners, she asked that the Government withdraw the single question and refer the original two questions to the Supreme Court, along with a new, third question:
3. If any statute be necessary to qualify a female to sit in the Senate of Canada, must this statute be enacted by the Imperial Parliament, or does power lie with the Parliament of Canada, or the Senate of Canada?
After further correspondence with the Deputy Minister and consultation with their lawyer, however, Emily Murphy advised the Deputy Minister that they accepted the single question posed by the Cabinet.
The Supreme Court of Canada heard the case on March 14, 1928, and issued its decision on April 24, 1928. Francis Alexander Anglin, Chief Justice of Canada, wrote the majority judgment, with Lamont J. and Smith J. concurring. Mignault J. and Duff J. wrote separate concurring opinions.
Anglin C.J.C. began by reviewing the provisions relating to the appointment of Senators under the Constitution Act, 1867. Section 23 of the Act sets out the qualifications for a Senator. Senators must be at least thirty years old, must be a British subject, must own real and personal property with a net value of at least $4,000, and must live in the Province for which they are appointed. Section 23 uses the pronoun "He" to describe these qualifications, which contributed to the argument that only men could be appointed to the Senate.
Section 24 then provides:
Summons of Senator
24. The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and, subject to the Provisions of this Act, every Person so summoned shall become and be a Member of the Senate and a Senator.
The question for the Court was whether women could be "qualified persons" under s. 24 and thus eligible to be appointed to the Senate. Ultimately, all five Justices held that the meaning of "qualified persons" did not include women. The Court interpreted the phrase "qualified person" based on their understanding of the intention of the drafters of the Constitution Act, 1867 , despite acknowledging that the role of women in society had changed since that date. In 1867, women could not sit in Parliament. Thus, if there were to be an exception to the practice from that period, it would have to be explicitly legislated. The Court held that the common law incapacity of women to exercise public functions excluded women from the class of "qualified persons" under section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
A common misinterpretation of the case is that the Supreme Court held that women are not persons. For example, the website of Status of Women Canada, a federal government organization, states, "After five weeks of debate and argument the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the word 'person' did not include women."
On the contrary, the majority judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada noted explicitly, "There can be no doubt that the word 'persons' when standing alone prima facie includes women."The Court also made this point clear in its formal judgment. The Court did not respond directly to the question as posed by the federal Cabinet. Instead, the Court gave its own interpretation of the question and then answered that re-formulated question:
The formal judgment of the court was as follows:
"Understood to mean 'Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada', the question is answered in the negative."
At that time, however, the Supreme Court was not the final arbiter of constitutional questions in Canada.
The five women then took the case on appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at that time the court of last resort for the British Empire. Since their names were listed on the appeal documents in alphabetical order, Henrietta Muir Edwards was listed as the first appellant, leading to the case being entered as Edwards v Canada (Attorney General).However, it is more generally known as the Persons Case, from the subject matter.
The landmark ruling was handed down on October 18, 1929.The Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey, writing for the committee, found that the meaning of "qualified persons" could be read broadly to include women, reversing the decision of the Supreme Court. He wrote that "[t]he exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours", and that "to those who ask why the word ["person"] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not". Finally, he wrote:
[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.
To arrive at his conclusion, Sankey proposed an entirely new approach to constitutional interpretation that has since become one of the core principles of constitutional law in Canada.
The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits. The object of the Act was to grant a Constitution to Canada. Like all written constitutions it has been subject to development through usage and convention ...
Their Lordships do not conceive it to be the duty of this Board—it is certainly not their desire—to cut down the provisions of the Act by a narrow and technical construction, but rather to give it a large and liberal interpretation so that the Dominion to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, may be mistress in her own house, as the provinces to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, are mistresses in theirs.
From this the approach became known as the living tree doctrine which requires "large and liberal" interpretation.[ citation needed ]
Although the ruling was of crucial importance for Canadian women in the long term, it did not result in Emily Murphy being appointed to the Senate. It was only a year later, on February 15, 1930, however, that the first woman, Cairine Reay Wilson, was appointed to the Senate.
Nearly 80 years later, in October 2009, the Senate voted to name the Five, posthumously, Canada's first "honorary senators".
An annual award, the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, was created in 1979 and continues to be presented to five individuals each year to honour distinguished achievements that advance the equality of girls and women in Canada.[ citation needed ]
Emily Murphy's house where the tea party occurred is now on the campus of the University of Alberta.
A statue of the Famous Five was unveiled in Calgary in 1999, and a replica placed on Parliament Hill in 2000. According to a publication of Library and Archives Canada, "The work depicts them as they might have appeared on hearing the news of the Privy Council's ruling. Standing behind an empty chair, Emily Murphy, with a triumphant gesture beckons to visitors, men and women equally, to have a place at this celebration of a new day for women in Canada."
The fifty-dollar note in the Canadian Journey Series (first issued in 2004) featured the statue of the Famous Five celebrating the result of the Persons Case.
The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law in Canada. It outlines Canada's system of government and the civil and human rights of those who are citizens of Canada and non-citizens in Canada. Its contents are an amalgamation of various codified acts, treaties between the Crown and indigenous peoples, uncodified traditions and conventions. Canada is one of the oldest constitutional democracies in the world.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is the highest court of appeal for certain British territories and Commonwealth countries. Established on 13 August 1833 to hear appeals formerly heard by the King-in-Council, the Privy Council formerly acted as the court of last resort for the entire British Empire, and continues to act as the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth nations, the Crown Dependencies, and the British Overseas Territories.
The Senate of Canada is the upper house of the Parliament of Canada, along with the House of Commons and the monarch. The Senate is modelled after the British House of Lords and consists of 105 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned on a regional basis: four regions—defined as Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces—each receives 24 seats, with the last nine seats allocated to the remaining portions of the country: six to Newfoundland and Labrador and one each to the three northern territories. Senators may serve until they reach the age of 75.
The Famous Five, or The Valiant Five, were five prominent Canadian suffragists who advocated for women and children. They asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, "Does the word 'Persons' in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?" in the case Edwards v Canada. The five women, Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, created a petition to ask this question. They fought to have women legally considered persons so that women could be appointed to the Senate. The petition was filed on August 27, 1927, and on April 24, 1928, Canada's Supreme Court summarized its unanimous decision that women are not such "persons".
Emily Murphy was a Canadian women's rights activist, jurist, and author. In 1916, she became the first female magistrate in Canada, and in the British Empire. She is best known for her contributions to Canadian feminism, specifically to the question of whether women were "persons" under Canadian law.
The Constitution Act, 1867 is a major part of the Constitution of Canada. The Act created a federal dominion and defines much of the operation of the Government of Canada, including its federal structure, the House of Commons, the Senate, the justice system, and the taxation system. The British North America Acts, including this Act, were renamed in 1982 with the patriation of the Constitution ; however, it is still known by its original name in United Kingdom records. Amendments were also made at this time: section 92A was added, giving provinces greater control over non-renewable natural resources.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland is the supreme court of the U.S. state of Maryland. The court, which is composed of one chief judge and six associate judges, meets in the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in the state capital, Annapolis. The term of the Court begins the second Monday of September. The Court is unique among American courts in that the judges wear red robes. The Maryland Court of Appeals joins the New York Court of Appeals in being the only two state highest courts to bear the name "Court of Appeals" rather than "Supreme Court".
The court system of Canada forms the judicial branch of government, formally known as "The Queen on the Bench", which interprets the law and is made up of many courts differing in levels of legal superiority and separated by jurisdiction. Some of the courts are federal in nature, while others are provincial or territorial.
In Canadian law, a reference question or reference case is a submission by the federal or a provincial government to the courts asking for an advisory opinion on a major legal issue. Typically the question concerns the constitutionality of legislation.
The Supreme Court Act is an Act passed by the Parliament of Canada which established the Supreme Court of Canada. It was originally passed in 1875 as the Supreme and Exchequer Courts Act. Although at the time, the Supreme Court was not the supreme authority on Canadian law, as Supreme Court cases could still be appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The Court of Appeal of the Republic of Singapore is the nation's highest court and its court of final appeal. It is the upper division of the Supreme Court of Singapore, the lower being the High Court. The Court of Appeal consists of the Chief Justice of Singapore, who is the President of the Court, and the Judges of Appeal. The Chief Justice may ask judges of the High Court to sit as members of the Court of Appeal to hear particular cases. The seat of the Court of Appeal is the Supreme Court Building.
The Supreme Court of Canada was founded in 1875 and has served as the final court of appeal in Canada since 1949. Its history may be divided into three general eras. From its inception in 1875 until 1949, the Court served as an intermediate appellate court subject to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain. Following 1949, the Court gained importance and legitimacy as the court of last resort in Canada, establishing a greater role for the Canadian judiciary. In 1982, the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms significantly changed the role of the Court in Canadian society, by providing the Court with greater powers of oversight over Parliament and through formal recognition of civil rights including aboriginal rights and equality rights.
The supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts.
A living document, also known as an evergreen document or dynamic document, is a document that is continually edited and updated. An example of a living document is an article in Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that permits anyone to freely edit its articles, in contrast to "dead" or "static" documents, such as an article in a single edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, or the U.S. Constitution, a document that can be amended.
Persons Day is an annual celebration in Canada, held on October 18. The day commemorates the case of Edwards v. Canada , 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, which at that time was the court of last resort for Canada. The Persons Case held that women were eligible to sit in the Senate of Canada.
R v Coote is a Canadian constitutional law court decision dealing with the powers of the provinces under the Constitution Act, 1867. The point in issue was whether Quebec had the constitutional authority to create a mandatory inquiry power for provincial fire commissioners.
Union St Jacques de Montreal v Bélisle UKPC 53, (1874) 6 LR PC 31 is a Canadian constitutional law decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The issue was whether a provincial statute which altered the contractual liabilities of a benevolent organization, reducing its financial obligations to two individuals, was within the constitutional authority of the province of Quebec under the Constitution Act, 1867.
The Preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867 provides:
The Supreme Court of the Gambia is a superior court of record and the highest court in The Gambia. Established in 1851, it has appellate and original jurisdiction over any law exceeding the powers conferred by the Constitution or any law upon the National Assembly or any other person or authority.
'I can see the statue of the Famous Five when I look out my window in the Centre Block', said Tardif.