MNBC recognizes October 18th as Persons Day in Canada

In 1927, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Emily Murphy, The Famous 5, challenged the meaning of the word “persons” to the Supreme Court of Canada in The British North America Act of 1867 (now referred to as the Constitution Act of 1867). The BNA Act used the words ‘he’ and ‘him’ when referring to individuals and ‘persons’ when referring to more than one individual. Under the act, it was near impossible for women to participate in politics. It took five weeks of vigorous debate for the Supreme Court to conclude that “persons” did not include women.

The five women then brought the case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, who determined, on October 18th, 1929, that the term “persons” should include women. Persons Day is recognized as a monumental day in Canadian history for women’s rights, and many celebrate The Famous 5 for their courage and tenacity. However, this progressive move for women was not intersectional and as many women advanced, others were left behind.

In 1885, Prime Minister Sir John A. McDonald said, “if they are Indians, they go with the tribe; if they are half-breeds then they are whites.”1 Thus began the erasure of the Métis identity that would pave the way for Métis women to enter the political arena alongside white women. Although, in some instances, Métis women were disqualified if they were part of treaties or covered by the Indian Act.

Indigenous peoples had to give up their identity to participate in the decision-making processes that governed them. In recent times, we witnessed the complexities of maintaining integrity within our cultural practices and identity while participating within colonial systems. However, it is with great importance that we lay bare the truths woven throughout history and hold them to the light to weave a better tapestry where intersectionality is seen, honoured and equitable for our generation and the generations to follow.

“As women and as Métis citizens we have faced many barriers to participating in positions of leadership and governance,” says Minister Elliot, “with gratitude I reflect on the sacredness and strength of our ancestors, and on the uprising of our modern-day Métis women who are engaging in the governing of our Nation and are laying the foundations for the next generations to build on.”

For inquiries, contact Ministry of Women and Gender Equity mowge@mnbc.ca