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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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The Persons Case

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation



The Cause

The Disappointment

The Victory

The Reactions and Effects


Article in the Edmonton Bulletin, October 23, 1926 Today, with the equal rights of Canadian women ensured by the 1982 Constitution Act, it is difficult to remember that many basic rights were first won only 70 years ago.

Canadian women born before 1929 were considered by law to be "non-persons." Five governments stated that women were ineligible to be appointed to the Senate because they were not "persons." In fact, British Common Law stated they were "persons in the matter of pains and penalties, but not in the matter of rights and privileges."

Harry Robertson, one of the lawyers who argued that Emily Murphy was not qualified to be a magistrate because she was not a "person" under the British North America ActA group of Alberta women known as the Famous 5 worked together to try to improve conditions for women and change the interpretation of the Canadian Constitution to ensure women could participate in all aspects of public life.

In 1927, the Famous 5 persuaded Prime Minister MacKenzie King to ask the Canadian Supreme Court to clarify the word "persons" under the British North America Act of 1867. When the Canadian court rejected their argument on April 24, 1928, the Famous 5 persuaded the Government of Canada to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council. There, the Famous 5 won their case and on October 18, 1929, Canadian women were legally declared "persons" and eligible for appointment to the Senate.

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