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Persons Day

Honourable senators, this morning as I walked to the Senate, I paused at the Famous Five Monument of Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, who are now immortalized in bronze on Parliament Hill. Thanks to these five trailblazers who challenged the status quo, I have the privilege of speaking today as a Canadian senator.

In 1927, five women approached the Supreme Court of Canada to question whether the word "person" in section 24 of the British North America Act included women. Five weeks of debate resulted in a decision that women were not considered persons. Undaunted, the fight was only beginning for these determined women.

It took almost two more years before the Imperial Privy Council, on October 18, 1929, gave its answer to this basic question with the seemingly obvious answer:

. . . to those who would ask why the word "person" should include females, the obvious answer is: Why should it not?

The Persons Case established that Canadian women were eligible to be appointed senators. Furthermore, Canadian women had the same rights as Canadian men with respect to positions of political power.

Honourable senators, yesterday I had the honour of introducing five distinguished women to our new Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston. His Excellency presented the women with the 2010 Governor General's Award in commemoration of the eighty-first anniversary of the Persons Case.

Honourable senators, please join me in congratulating the five prominent individuals who were recognized yesterday: Marie Louise Fish, from Elgin, Ontario; Lucille Harper, from Pomquet, Nova Scotia; Kerline Joseph, from Delson, Quebec; Anne Michaud, from Montreal, Quebec; and Barbara Mowat, from Abbotsford, British Columbia. While diverse in their approach to the goal of gender equality, their impact on their communities and on our country has been profound.