June 9, 2006
Canada's Defining Moment:
The Person's Case
As a nation on the rise, Canada has over the years experienced many defining moments in its history, some more important than others. Over all, the most defining of these moments in Canadian history was the moment that the Person's Case was won; not only because it liberated women I n Canada but because its repercussion s would have an immense impact on Canada's development as a country.
The person's Case began with the famous five: five women who took it upon themselves to challenge the preconceived notion that women were not "persons". The Famous Five included Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, and Henrietta Muir Edwards who were all active political pioneers in search of social reorganization. The five women questioned whether or not the word "persons" under the British North American Act (BNA) included women as well as men. The Famous Five believed that it did include women, so therefore women should have the same political status and rights as men. The goal of this group was to present their query to the Supreme Court and to eventually have a woman in the Senate.
On August 27, 1927 the Famous Five brought their question to the government: under section 24 of the BNA did the word "person" include women? The court took the inquiry into consideration but six weeks later they determined that the BNA did not include women in the word "persons". The Supreme Courts' argument was that the BNA had to be read in the terms that it was written in during 1867. Unfortunately, because women were not politically active in 1867 no woman was to be elected to the Senate at this time.
The five Albertan women had no intentions of taking no for an answer. They appealed to the Judicial Committee of England's Privy Council and on October 18 of 1929 the judicial Committee came to the unanimous decision that the word "persons" included both men and women under the British North American Act. One of the lords of the committee Viscount Sankey stated that "…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?" (Edwards vs. Canada).
None of the members of the Famous Five ever became Senators themselves, but they continued to dedicate their lives to preserving and fighting for social rights. These five great Canadian heroes persevered and did eventually reach their goal: four months after the court judgment Cairine Wilson became the first women elected to the Senate. Because the five fought for social justice their victory in the Person's Case led to greater opportunities and more jobs in government and other employment areas in Canada for women.
The Person's Case was the single most significant moment in Canada's history not simply because it allowed female citizens to work in the government, but because this one case opened so many doors for other issues involving women and their rights. This case has empowered women all across Canada for the past 77 years and inspired Canadian citizens to achieve great things to set goals for the future, and to continue to fight for social economic and political equality for women.
Without the victory that was the Person's Case our country would be vastly different from the one it is today. The Person's Case was fought for and won so that Canadian women could go on to do great things and not have to be confined to the role of mother and housekeeper. The Person's Case has allowed Canadian heroines such as Roberta Bondar, who in 1993 was the first women to go into space or Margaret Atwood, an acclaimed poetic, critic and feminist Canadian to achieve their goals and to do great things. There are many women in Canada who have achieved great things because of the success of the Person's Case and there will continue to be women who will benefit from this victory.
One could argue that the Battle of Vimy ridge was the most defining moment in Canadian history. It was during this battle that because of Canada's soldiers' perseverance and courage the German Army surrendered. Some say that this battle was the one in which Canada rose out of Britain's' supremacy and defined itself as an independent nation. This is indeed a huge event for Canada and it shaped Canada profoundly. But this even could not possibly compare to the winning of The Person's Case because it did not put in motion the number of events that The Person's Case did. If we had not received our independence from Britain we would most likely still be considered one of the greatest nations and we would still be able to function. Without the Person's Case women could still be living in the past, women would not be neearlhy as confident and independent as they are now and many important evens set into place by women would not have occurred, such as advancement sin science and politics. Canada has always seemed preoccupied with proving how great and independent our nation is, yet how could we accomplish this if our women are not considered 'persons'? It is far better to be independent as a people than independent as a nation.
One may argue that the creation of the Official Languages Act was the most defining moment in Canadian history. The Official Languages Act was first officially adopted in 1969. Its main objectives were:
1. The equality of English and French in Parliament, within the Government of Canada, the federal administration and institutions subject to the Act;
2. The preservation and development of official language communities in Canada;
3. The equality of English and French in Canadian society. (1969, History of Bilingualism in Canada)
This even can be interpreted as a great defining moment in history because it greatly helped to unify French and English Canada who throughout our nation's history had never been unified. It is not, however the most significant moment in our history. This is because although this even helped to unify two separate groups of people in Canada, the French and the English, there are many more ethnic groups in Canada that had no part in this unity, such as the Native peoples. The Person's Case was firstly geared towards the liberation of Canadian women but in accomplishing this, Canadian men were also affected because of the advancements in our country has made because of our women. The Person's Case influenced a much larger group of people as opposed to the Official Languages Act, which did not unify all of the peoples within our nation.
A defining moment is an event that shapes who the people of a nation are and how they feel about their country. The Person's Case set into motion an ongoing chain of events that would forever change Canada and the way Canadians view and feel about their country. Though there have been many other defining moments in our history and certainly within the last century this has been the most significant because it has allowed us to grow and to move forward as a people rather as a country.
Works Citedhttp:www.thestudy.qc.ca/highschool/Departments/CompSci/swork/web/cwomen/pages/Fung/famousfive/famousfive.html http:sen.parl.gc.ca/ckenny/persons.htm History of Bilingualism in Canada: http:www.pch.gc.ca/progs/lo-ol/biling/histe.cfm Edwards vs. Canada ( Attorney General):