- Created on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 18:07
- Hits: 150
It was 84 years ago today when a few men broke tradition and decided women were legitimate people.
Four lords and a sir sat on the landmark legal case, now known as the Persons Case, with one of the lords, Lord Chancellor Viscount Sankey, saying women are people, because essentially, why not.
“… To those who ask why the word [person] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not,” said Sankey, one of the five men chosen to make the decision on the personhood of Canadian women. All things considered, there was simply no good reason why women couldn’t be people.
Another group of five “people” — all of the female variety — were the ones asking the questions. The Famous Five, as they were known, had been working for over a decade to secure some rights as human beings. They were, after all, being human, and they decided it was time they could do things like sit in the Senate.
However, the case’s overarching implications had more to do with the idea that women are people, which, of course, they are (now).
It took over a decade of fighting to secure this idea in the minds of Canadian men. This evokes the same reactions as when a bunch of men with “traditional family values” spew rhetoric about the sanctity of marriage or sodomy laws. These reactions almost always occur when people who should have no say in the matter are the ones deciding whether it can happen in the first place.
Why did it take men over a decade of convincing to believe the opposite sex were people rather than property? To go even further, why was Emily Murphy, the leader of the Famous Five and a powerful person in her own right, a “xenophobic fascist” who supported an eugenics movement and denounced Chinese-Canadians?
Chinese-Canadians couldn’t vote until 1947 — almost 30 years after Murphy helped (some) Canadian women get their suffrage. What was the hold up? It seems as though we can all get a little weird, especially with power, and that brings us to the other huge breakthrough made in the Persons Case, the living tree doctrine.
It is the concept of interpreting the Constitution as a “living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” It says the Constitution should be read in the context of the times so as to reflect the people it’s supposed to be serving; otherwise, it’d be serving the presumably dead people who wrote it down on paper however long ago.
After all, things change and nothing is permanent. Power changes hands, politicians retire or are chased out of office, and the stock market crashes. These things happen, and the solution isn’t to stagnate the Constitution for fear of change.
We need to allow people to fight for what they believe in (within reason, because you just can’t say whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want), and we need to give democracy the breadth to thrive as a living, breathing organism.