October 18: Persons Day

October 18: Persons Day (October 18, 1929: Women are considered “Persons” under Canadian law)

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Persons Day is an annual celebration in Canada, held on October 18 each year. The day commemorates a famous constitutional case commonly known as The Persons Case– decided on October 18, 1929 .

In the 1900s in Canada men outnumbered women, causing social problems such as alcohol abuse and prostitution. This made women more motivated. They also wanted a role in politics and in 1916 Alberta passed legislation granting women the right to vote. However, there was a problem with the word Person. In the Federal Act the word person (singular)  was usually replaced by he ( gender-specific pronoun referring to a male), which caused   the issue that the Act was really saying that only a man could be a person, therefore preventing women from participating fully in politics or affairs of state

But five women (Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards) in 1927 went to the Supreme Court of Canada to get an answer as to why women were not included in the word person, therefore  ineligible for appointment to the Senate. Their question: was: Does the word ‘Person’ in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?”

The  debate took over five weeks  and the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on 24 April 1928 that women were not “persons” under Section 24 of the Act.

Due to their determination, the Famous Five  decided to appeal to  the Privy Council of England. After much deliberation, the Privy Council reversed the decision of the Supreme Court on 18 October 1929, concluding that “the word ‘persons’ in sec. 24 includes women, and that women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada.”

Their answer to this famous question became famous as:  “why should it not”. Lord Sankey, who delivered the judgment on behalf of the Privy Council,  remarked  that 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 [persons] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not.”

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