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2010 Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, Parliamentarians, honoured awards recipients past and present, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Your Excellency, on behalf of everyone here today, I extend special congratulations on your recent appointment as Canada’s 28th Governor General.  We appreciate your gracious patronage of this event commemorating a milestone in the quest for equality for women.

In 1929, the Persons Case brought long-awaited human rights to Canadian women – specifically, the right to be recognized as “persons” and thus to serve in the Senate of Canada.

Fifty years later, in recognition of the historic act of courage by the Famous Five, the Government of Canada created the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Called the “Persons Awards” for short, they represent long and impressive records of achievement by some of Canada’s most exemplary individuals.  Every year, on or close to “Persons Day,” October 18, these Awards are bestowed upon a select few Canadians at a very special ceremony, with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a Governor General – especially this year, with a newly appointed Governor General!

The reasons for all of this formality and celebration are simple and beautiful:

  • because these individuals deserve it;
  • because they are an inspiration to all; and
  • because we as Canadians are incredibly proud of them!

Before I introduce you to the Famous Five of 2010, I would like share with you the story behind these awards.

By the 1920s, women had finally succeeded in winning the right to vote in federal elections and in some provinces.  Five trail-blazing women in Alberta decided to tackle the next step on the journey.

The names of the Famous Five were:

  • Henrietta Muir Edwards;
  • Nellie McClung;
  • Louise McKinney;
  • Emily Murphy; and
  • Irene Parlby.

The Famous Five felt it was wrong to use gender as a key qualification for the legal designation of “person” because it so obviously and unfairly left out women, effectively barring them from taking on important leadership roles in Canadian society.  In 1927, they formally asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer this question:

“Does the word ‘person’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act include female persons?”

After five weeks of debate, the Court came back with its decision: no, the word “person” did not include women.

Undaunted, the Famous Five referred their challenge to Canada’s then-highest court – the Privy Council in England.

On October 18, 1929, the Privy Council announced its historic decision: “…to those who would ask why the word ‘person’ should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?”

Given that not one of the Famous Five was ever appointed as senator, let us hope their reward lay in the knowledge that women would have greater opportunities to participate in government and other areas of Canadian society.

In 1930, four months after the Persons Case decision, Cairine Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate. 

However, 23 years were to pass before the next woman was appointed to Canada's Upper Chamber and the Persons Case was allowed to fade into the background of Canadian history.

We can all feel grateful that has now changed.  Not only are the Persons Awards an annual highlight but a monument to the Famous Five now stands on Parliament Hill.

The recipients of the 2010 Persons Awards share with the Famous Five a thirst for community involvement and a passion for women’s full participation.  Throughout the years, Canada’s Persons Awards recipients have been leaders in a vast array of fields.  Together, they share a talent for greatness of which few can boast but all can admire.

Allow me to introduce this year’s “Famous Five” – the recipients of the 2010 Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Marie Louise Fish

Marie Louise Fish is a trailblazer for women in non-traditional roles, particularly in the Canadian Forces, where her career began in 1974.  Her military record reflects many women’s “firsts,” including being the first woman to:

  • as a naval officer, serve at sea, as part of a pilot project to employ women in previously all-male naval units;
  • qualify and serve as a ship’s diving officer; and
  • participate in the Canadian contingent in the rigorous annual 160-kilometre, four-day Nijmegen March, in commemoration of the liberation of the Netherlands.

Ms. Fish served at sea at a time when there were very few women in the Canadian Navy, undergoing arduous training alongside her male counterparts.  Upon retirement from the military, Ms. Fish entered the field of security administration, becoming the first woman to serve as president of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators.  At the Royal Military College, and Queen’s and Trent universities, Ms. Fish developed policies and practices that enhance women’s safety, and she increased the representation of women on security staff.  Ms. Fish lives in Elgin, Ontario.

For her dedication to equality and opportunity for all women, we present the 2010 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. 

Lucille Harper

Lucille Harper is an articulate proponent of and long-time advocate for social justice and women’s equality.  Since 1988, she has been the Executive Director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, assisting thousands of adolescent girls and women with issues related to poverty, violence, social exclusion, health education and training.  In Antigonish, she has been instrumental in establishing a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, Sexual Assault Response Team, school-based Healthy Relationships Program and women’s health centre.  Ms. Harper works with her community and with organizations across Nova Scotia to improve the economic, social and political situation of women.  She helped to found many key organizations, and remains active with Connect – Nova Scotia Association of Women’s Centres, Feminists of Just and Equitable Public Policy, and the Women’s Action Coalition of Nova Scotia Group, to name only a few.  On a national level, Ms. Harper has contributed to the work of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.  Ms. Harper lives in Pomquet, Nova Scotia, with her life partner, and has three adult children.

For her dedication to equality and opportunity for all women, we present the 2010 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. 

Kerline Joseph

A federal public servant with Service Canada, Kerline Joseph holds a doctorate in law.  Her dedication to community service goes back to the early 1990s, when a trip to Africa made her aware of the injustices most women face.  She then resolved to dedicate herself to fighting discrimination against women.  Ms. Joseph was the assistant to the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission, and worked to support the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a legal instrument aimed at protecting women across the continent.  In 2005, Ms. Joseph created the organization Voix sans frontéres [Voices without borders], of which she is president.  It addresses the isolation of immigrant women in Canada, helps them with skills development, and provides them with information about their rights and responsibilities in this country.  A 2005 nominee for the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, Ms. Joseph lives in Delson, Quebec.

For her dedication to equality and opportunity for all women, we present the 2010 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. 

Anne Michaud

Anne Michaud has played an active role in the women’s movement since the 1970s.  She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and personal safety.  In 1981, she was among the pioneers behind the simultaneous “Take Back the Night” demonstrations in cities across the country, which continue to this day.  As part of her responsibilities while working for the City of Montréal, Ms. Michaud worked in conjunction with city stakeholders to develop practices that have made Montréal a leader in urban safety for women.  Ms. Michaud was a member of the Canadian delegation to the 1996 United Nations City Summit in Istanbul, where she took part in the negotiations on gender equality issues in the context of local governance.

In 2002, she co-created Women in Cities International, a network that promotes the dissemination of knowledge and best practices regarding women’s safety and gender equality in urban settings.  That initiative was recognized by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for its leadership among non-governmental networks working to end violence against women. Ms. Michaud lives in Montréal, Quebec.

For her dedication to equality and opportunity for all women, we present the 2010 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Barbara Mowat

Dedicated to empowering women to succeed in business, Barbara Mowat is a trade and international business development specialist.  Ms. Mowat is President of Impact Communications Ltd.  She founded and published Home Business Report, Canada’s first magazine for micro-enterprises.  Ms. Mowat created the Uniquely Programs that assisted 12,000 Canadian entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are women, in accessing increased markets throughout Canada and on four continents.  She is the Women Presidents’ Organization Chapter Chair in Vancouver, serving women presidents and CEOs of major companies.  Ms. Mowat promotes business development at many levels, including being among the original advisory board members for the Global Banking Alliance for Women.

She is a certified woman business owner of WEConnect Canada, serves on the Global Membership Circle for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and won the 1993 Canadian Businesswoman of the Year Award for Impact on the Local Economy.  Ms. Mowat’s international work supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries.  She led a special United Nations project to support businesswomen in Afghanistan.  Ms. Mowat lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

For her dedication to equality and opportunity for all women, we present the 2010 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. 

These five outstanding Canadians inspire us all.  While our journey toward equality is not over, thanks to today’s recipients and countless other individuals engaged in equality-building work, we are getting closer.

The recipients of the 2010 Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case reflect the Famous Five’s unwavering commitment to equality for women.

To the “Famous Five” of 2010, please accept my heartfelt congratulations, on behalf of all Canadians.

At this time, it is my distinct pleasure to present to you my colleague, Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, the Honourable Rona Ambrose.

Thank you.