Presentation on theme: "Women in Canada: 1920s and 1930s. Women in Canada Women’s Suffrage In the 19th century, female property holders could demand municipal voting rights on."— Presentation transcript:
Women in Canada Women’s Suffrage In the 19th century, female property holders could demand municipal voting rights on the principle of "no taxation without representation". Propertied women in Québec voted unchallenged between 1809 and 1849, when the word "male" was inserted into Québec's franchise act. What women in Québec lost, women in Ontario soon gained; from 1850, women with property, married or single, could vote for school trustees. By the 1900s municipal voting privileges for propertied women were general throughout Canada. Bills to enfranchise women in provincial elections failed to pass in any province until Manitoba finally succeeded in 1916.
Women in Canada At the federal level it was a two step process. On September 20, 1917, women gained a limited right to vote: According to the Parliament of Canada website, the Military Voters Act established that "women who are British subjects and have close relatives in the armed forces can vote on behalf of their male relatives, in federal elections." In 1919, the right to vote was extended to all women in the Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women. The remaining provinces quickly followed suit, except for Quebec, which did not do so until 1940. Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to Parliament in 1921.
Women in Canada Agnes MacPhail After amendments to the Elections Act by the Conservative Party government in 1919, Macphail was elected to the House of Commons as a member of the Progressive Party of Canada for the Grey Southeast electoral district (riding) in the 1921 federal election. She was the first woman Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada. Macphail was re-elected in the 1925, 1926, and 1930 federal elections.
Women in Canada Macphail objected to the Royal Military College of Canada in 1924 on the grounds that it taught snobbishness and provided a cheap education for the sons of the rich and again in 1931 on pacific grounds. In the 1935 federal election, Macphail was again elected, this time as a United Farmers of Ontario–Labour MP for the newly formed Grey—Bruce riding. She was allowed to use the party's name, even after it stopped being a political organization in 1934. She was always a strong voice for rural issues. Another one of Macphail's issues was penal reform; her efforts led to the formation of the investigative Archambault Commission in 1936. Macphail's concern for women in the criminal justice system led her, in 1939, to found the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, named after British reformer Elizabeth Fry.
Women in Canada Causes she championed included pensions for seniors and workers' rights. Macphail was also the first Canadian woman delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked with the World Disarmament Committee. Although a pacifist, she voted for Canada to enter World War II. In the 1940 election, she was defeated. With the death of United Reform MP for Saskatoon City, Walter George Brown, a few days after the election, Macphail was recruited by the United Reform Movement to run in the by-election to fill the seat. On August 19, she was defeated by Progressive Conservative candidate Alfred Henry Bence. He received 4,798 votes, while Macphail placed second with 4,057 votes. It was her last federal campaign as a candidate.
Women in Canada The Person’s Case In 1916, Emily Murphy and a group of women attempted to attend a trial of Alberta women accused of prostitution. She, and the rest of the group of women, were ejected from the trial on the grounds that the testimony was "not fit for mixed company." Emily Murphy was outraged and appealed to Charles Wilson Cross, the Attorney General of Alberta, arguing "If the evidence is not fit to be heard in mixed company, then... the government… [must] set up a special court presided over by women, to try other women." Much to her surprise, the minister not only agreed, but appointed her as the magistrate. However, on her first day on the job, her authority to preside as a judge was challenged by a lawyer on the basis that women were not "persons" under the British North America Act.
Women in Canada In 1917, the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women were persons, thus settling the issue for Alberta, but not for the rest of Canada. Sometime later, Emily Murphy decided to test the issue in the rest of Canada by allowing her name to be put forward to Robert Borden, the Canadian Prime Minister, as a candidate for Canadian Senator. He rejected her on the familiar grounds that women were not "persons". In response to a petition signed by nearly 500,000 Canadians that asked that she be appointed to the Senate, Borden stated that he was willing to do so, but could not on the basis of an 1876 British common law ruling that stated that "women were eligible for pains and penalties, but not rights and privileges."
Women in Canada Some years later, Emily Murphy asked four other prominent Albertan women to join her in a petition to the federal government on the issue of women's status. On August 27, 1927, the four other women (Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards) joined her for tea at her house. The five women, later to be known as the Famous Five (or the Valiant Five) all signed the petition, asking the federal government to refer two questions relating to women's status to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Women in Canada The two questions were: "I. Is power vested in the Governor-General in Council of Canada, or the Parliament of Canada, or either of them, to appoint a female to the Senate of Canada? II. Is it constitutionally possible for the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of the British North America Act, or otherwise, to make provision for the appointment of a female to the Senate of Canada?"
Women in Canada In Canada, the federal government has the power to refer questions to the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify legal and constitutional issues. Ernest Lapointe, who was Minister of Justice in the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, reviewed the petition and recommended to the federal Cabinet that the questions be narrowed down from two to one, relating to the appointment of women to the federal Senate of Canada under section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867).
Women in Canada On October 19, 1927, the Cabinet submitted this question for clarification to the Supreme Court of Canada: "Does the word 'Persons' in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?"
Women in Canada The Court did not respond directly to the question as posed by the federal Cabinet. Instead, the Court gave its own interpretation of the question and then answered that re-formulated question: "The formal judgment of the court was as follows: Understood to mean 'Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada,' the question is answered in the negative."
Women in Canada This meant that NO, women could NOT be members of the Senate of Canada – not necessarily that they were not person’s under the BNA Act. The five women then took the case on appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at that time the court of last resort for the British Empire. Since their names were listed on the appeal documents in alphabetical order, Henrietta Muir Edwards was listed as the first appellant, leading to the case being entered as Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General). However, it is more generally known as the Persons Case, from the subject matter.
Women in Canada The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Sankey, writing for the committee, found that the meaning of "qualified persons" could be read broadly to include women, reversing the decision of the Supreme Court. The landmark ruling was handed down on October 29, 1929. He held that "[t]he exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours," and that "to those who ask why the word ["person"] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not."
Women in Canada Finally, he wrote: "[T]heir Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word "persons" in sec. 24 includes members both of the male and female sex and that, therefore,... women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada, and they will humbly advise His Majesty accordingly."
Women in Canada Although the ruling was to be of crucial importance for Canadian women in the long term, it did not result in Emily Murphy being appointed to the Senate. However, it was only a year later, on February 15, 1930, that the first woman, Cairine Reay Wilson, was appointed to the Senate. Nearly 80 years later, in October 2009, the Senate voted to name the Five, posthumously, Canada's first "honorary senators."