In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

80th anniversary of the Persons Case

Posted 10/19/2009 by Grant Mitchell


This year is 80th anniversary of the Persons Case. This case was taken up by Alberta’s Famous Five. They were women who had had enough of being second class citizens and determined that they would change the legal definition of a “person” which then excluded women. They won the case in Britain after being rejected by the Canadian Supreme Court.

It is an interesting story that the grand-daughter of the lawyer, Newton Rowell, who took the case for the five women to Britain and won it, is now a Senator, eligible because her grand-father did that. Her name is Nancy Ruth. She and I were both appointed by Prime Minister Paul Martin in March 2005. She is a Conservative and very keen on women’s rights issues – and this interest is probably not just a coincidence!

I represented the Edmonton riding of McClung in the Alberta Legislature for a good part of the 12 years that I sat there. I always felt a great sense of pride that I was representing a riding named after someone who was so instrumental in the fight for women’s equality. It never ceases to amaze me how even today in progressive societies there are biases and prejudices that hold women back. There is so much to do.

I think the Famous Five would have cause for concern today. The current government has moved equality initiatives for women decidedly backwards. They have cancelled funding of the Court Challenges Program, used by women and others to take equality issues to court that they would not otherwise be able to. In some cases they have removed equality language from the government’s women’s issues related web sites and literature. And, they have changed the procedures for women in the public service to undertake a pay equity appeal, making it much more difficult to qualify a case for the process and prohibiting it from being heard by the Human Rights Commission. Any claim will now go through the Labour Relations Board where it is implicitly the subject of negotiation, something that you just don’t do with rights like the right to pay equity.

While progress has been made in Canada, much remains to be done. Women bear a disproportionate degree of poverty and of domestic violence. They earn about 70% of what men earn. There is evidence emerging that young women leaving university are earning less again than their male peers and that they are paid considerably less over the long term than their male peers with equivalent education. When it comes to EI benefits, they pay premiums but qualify less often and get paid less when they do. We still have much more work to do.



To read my speech about these great women, please click here.

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