Persons Day

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Persons Day is an annual celebration in Canada, held on October 18. 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, 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.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with 70% of citizens residing within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council judicial body in the United Kingdom

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 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.


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]


In the 1900s, social change in the Canadian west- including, as at Alberta, a shift from a rural to urban population- [2] came to result in alcohol abuse and prostitution. Some women considered this to be the result of the outnumbering of women by men, and were motivated to improve the state of their society through involvement in politics. In 1916, Alberta passed legislation granting women the right to vote. [3] However, the use of the word 'person' in the federal act was considered by some to mean that the act was indicating that only a man could be a person; the word 'persons' was employed to indicate more than one person, but when talking about one person the pronoun was 'he'. This was seen as preventing women from full participation in politics or affairs of state. [4]

The Famous Five

Persons Day originated with The Famous Five- Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. Emily Murphy, who led the case in 1927, was the first woman in the British Empire to be appointed magistrate in 1916. [5] McClung was the first woman on the CBC Board of Governors and a representative to the League of Nations. [6] McKinney was the first woman sworn into the Alberta Legislature and in the British Empire. [7] Parlby, who was also in the Alberta Legislature, helped pass 18 bills, which helped women and children, and was also the second female cabinet minister in the British Empire. [8] Edwards is known for establishing the National Council of Women in 1890. [9]

The Famous Five (Canada) five Canadian women in a Canadian court case

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 Canadian judge

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.

Nellie McClung Canadian politician

Nellie Letitia McClung, was a Canadian author, social activist, suffragette, and politician. She was a part of the social and moral reform movements prevalent in Western Canada in the early 1900s. Her great causes were women's suffrage and the temperance. It was largely through her efforts that in 1916 Manitoba became the first province to give women the right to vote and to run for public office.

Persons Case

In the Persons Case of 1927, Murphy, McClung, Parlby, McKinney and Edward questioned the Supreme Court of Canada regarding women not being included in the word 'person' according to the B.N.A. Act. [10] After five weeks of debate, the court ruled that the word 'person' would continue to exclude women. The five women then went to London, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, this being the highest level of court appeal possible at the time. On October 18, 1929, the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Lord Sankey, announced that the court's decision was that the word 'person' would include women: [11]

"The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word "person" should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?"

In 1979, on the 50th anniversary of the Privy Council's decision, the Canadian government instituted the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case to recognize outstanding contributions in advancing equality for women in Canada. The Awards are presented at a ceremony each Persons Day. [12] People can be nominated annually [13] to receive honours for their contributions to gender equality. [14]

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<i>Edwards v Canada (AG)</i> 1929 court case which declared the word "person" in the Constitution of Canada includes women

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.

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  1. The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2014-12-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2014-12-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2014-12-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2014-12-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. Six Outstanding Women Receive Governor General's Persons Award Archived 2011-10-31 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2011-10-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Persons Day." N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2014.

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