85th Anniversary of Persons Case decision

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Today (October 18) marks the 85th anniversary of a decision made by the Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council. This case was an appeal of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Henrietta Muir Edwards and others (Appeal No. 121 of 1928) v The Attorney General of Canada (Canada) [1929] UKPC 86 (18 October 1929).

We know this case more commonly as The Persons Case.

The case revolved around definition of a specific word found in Part 4.1 (The Senate) of the British North America Act, 1867 (and in particular section 24 of Part 4.1) which reads as follows:

24. The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen’s Name, by instrument of the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and, subject to the Provisions of this Act, every Person so summoned shall become and be a member of the Senate and a Senator.

In greatly simplified terms, the question as I understand it, that was resolved was “should women be considered persons as defined by the British North American Act; and, can they be named to the Senate?”

I want to keep this short as I really don’t have time to write much. There is a fair bit of preamble, which makes fascinating reading in itself, (or at least I find it fascinating reading) as there are a number of arcane references dating from Roman second century law and a comment stating that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours”. At the end it is stated that,

their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word “persons” in section 24 includes members both of the male and female sex and that, therefore, the question propounded by the Governor-General must be asked in the affirmative and that women are eligible to be summoned to and become Members of the Senate of Canada, and they will humbly advise is Majesty accordingly.

It is because of this, that this anniversary and the celebration was held this afternoon beside the large sculpture located at the west end of Olympic Plaza.

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Because this blog is about art in Calgary, I would like to talk further about the sculpture.

Beginning around 1996, this sculpture is a result of a multi-year process to secure the location; raise the approximately $750,000 required for the two Calgary and Ottawa sculptures; and to secure an appropriate artist to do the sculpture. This was all coordinated and done under the auspices of the Famous 5 Foundation and subsequently is part of the Civic Art Collection.

Three artists were short-listed for this commission. They were Mary-Ann Liu (from Mission, BC), Barbara Paterson (from Edmonton), and Helen Grainger Young (from Winnipeg). The selected artist was Barbara Paterson.

It was officially unveiled by then Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and then Premier Ralph Klein on October 18, 1999 with approximately 2000 people in attendance. A second casting of this piece was unveiled one year later on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Since the time that it was unveiled it is a popular place for tourists and locals alike to take photos. As seen in the out-stretched fingers from one of the hands, the patina has been worn down from regular contact and touch (as seen in the detail photo below). It would not also surprise me if some of the other parts of the sculpture are also burnished from regular contact as well.

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Representational monuments which recognize important historical figures and local narratives can be a significant component of any city’s public art experience. Having a monument at street level, in an active walking area of the city, helps remind us that through the efforts of these five women, opportunities available for all women who came after were significantly advanced. They also all called Calgary their home.

That is something worth celebrating.

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