Persons Quotes

We are one month away from Persons Day! That is the anniversary of the 1929 release of one of the most famous judicial decisions in Canadian history, the one that confirmed that, for the purposes of the Canadian Constitution, women are considered to be “persons.”

A couple of years ago, I gave a speech about the Persons Case at two small swing-dance-related events, and in honour of Persons Day 2013, I plan to post an updated version of that speech here on October 18. As I was thinking about that, I realized that I had never actually read the entire case from beginning to end, so a couple of days ago I did so. I was so excited about it that I thought I would share some of its best quotes with you.

1. Probably the most famous quote to emerge from the decision, at least in legal circles: “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits. The object of the Act was to grant a Constitution to Canada.”

2. A lesser-known line that is quickly becoming one of my favourites; the continuing relevance to today’s debates (see: marriage equality versus the “traditional” definition of marriage) is striking: “Customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared. The appeal to history therefore in this particular matter is not conclusive.”

3. You have to love judges who don’t mince words: “The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours . . .”

4. And, of course, the bottom line: “The word “person” as above mentioned may include members of both sexes, and to those who ask why the word should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?”


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