National Post

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Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Women are still fighting for equality, Clarkson says at 'persons' memorial
Unveils statue
Richard Foot
National Post

CALGARY - Seventy years after women were first recognized as "persons" under Canada's Constitution, hundreds of men and women gathered in Calgary's Olympic Plaza yesterday to remember the five Alberta feminists who fought to make it happen.

The story of the Famous Five is now invoked by an elaborate bronze memorial, which depicts the group winning its legal struggle to allow women to gain entry into Canada's Senate. Many years in the making, the statue was unveiled here yesterday by Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General.

"We must never feel that the work [of seeking equality for women] has been done," said Ms. Clarkson, who pledged during her installation two weeks ago to speak up for women's rights. "We still see a world that has been created by men and not by women.

"This monument in Calgary is the first in Canada to honour women as nation-builders. [But] there are many firsts yet to come. Let's not forget that."

The Famous Five -- Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby -- won the Person's Case in 1929, convincing the Privy Council of England, then Canada's highest appeal court, that women should be considered "persons" under the British North America Act.

The act previously said that women were persons in terms of pain or penalty, but not in terms of rights and privileges.

Efforts to change that were spearheaded by Emily Murphy, the British Empire's first female magistrate. Murphy wanted to become Canada's first woman senator, but was unable to do so because she was not considered a person under the Constitution. Murphy assembled four more female activists to help her launch a legal petition against the BNA Act, and on Oct. 18, 1929, after several years of legal battles, the group won its case.

The decision paved the way for Cairine Wilson to become Canada's first female senator in 1930. Dozens have since followed.

Yesterday a team of Liberal female senators joined Ms. Clarkson to unveil the Famous Five memorial.

A second casting of the memorial, which shows the five sitting down for tea on the day of their victory, will be erected on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 18 next year. Until now, the only public memorial to the Famous Five has been a small and obscure plaque on a Senate wall.

Ms. Clarkson also presented the governor-general's annual Person's Case Awards yesterday, honouring five Canadians who have worked to support women in their communities.

Many who gathered for the occasion see a strong, new ally in Ms. Clarkson. They expect her to be a powerful advocate -- as a public promoter of women's issues and a forceful lobbyist with federal ministers -- during her tenure as governor-general.

"I don't think her [non-partisan] role will stop her from doing the things that she feels are necessary," said Bette Stephenson, a Toronto physician honoured yesterday for her work in women's health. "Nothing has ever kept Adrienne Clarkson's mouth shut when she was concerned about an issue. I don't think she'll hesitate in any way to tell the prime minister precisely what she thinks he should do."

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