Honourable Senators, I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. This award pays tribute to a group of women from my home province of Alberta, who brought about the Persons Case, known collectively, as the Famous Five. These women truly exhibited the spirit for which Albertans are known: standing up for what is right and working tirelessly until the goal is accomplished.
Edmonton’s Emily Murphy, the first female magistrate in the British Empire, spent twelve years leading the charge to have women recognized as legal persons and who – because of her gender – was rejected 5 times for a Senate appointment!
Historically, a party of five was required to petition the government for a legal ruling, so Judge Emily Murphy brought the Famous Five together.
In 1917, Louise McKinney was not only the first woman to be elected to Alberta’s Legislature, she was the first woman elected in a legislature in the entire British Empire. She joined the movement for women to have the right to vote, and for property rights.
Nellie McClung was a Member of the Alberta Legislature who also fought for the right of women to vote in Canada. She used her sense of humour and talent for public speaking to rally people to support the Person’s Case.
Irene Parlby, also a member of the Alberta Legislature was the second female Cabinet Minister in the British Empire; and was a sitting MLA when she joined forces with the Famous Five, bringing with her the support of the province of Alberta. She was also the first woman to serve on the CBC’s Board of Governors.
Henrietta Muir Edwards was seventy-eight years old when she joined the struggle for women to legally be declared persons. She was also an artist, legal expert, and publisher and was instrumental in the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897.
When the Supreme Court ruled against them: the Famous Five appealed to the final court of appeal, the British Privy Council and won! The Privy Council declared “the British North America Act” planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion. Their Lordships concluded that the word “person” in Section 24 includes members of both sexes and that indeed; women are eligible to become members of the Senate of Canada.
On October 18, 1929, their hard work and perseverance led to the legal ruling that women were to be included in the definition of a person.
It is because of their commitment to equality that today, I and all women are able to become Senators and speak in this Chamber.
Let us never forget the sacrifices they made to build a more equal society and, like the present day recipients of the Governor General’s Award, continually strive to do the same.