The Persons' Case, 1928 (Single Lesson)

  • The Mission
  • Assessment Rubrics
  • Introduction
  • Clues
  • Resources
    • Books
    • Newspapers
    • Objects
    • Photographs
    • Maps
    • Chronologies
    • Audiovisuals
    • Extras
  • Activities
  • Teacher's Guide

The Mission

Letters and Legal Documents as Historical Sources
The legal process is a source of rich documents and also complicated challenges for historians. In a democracy, the legal system produces a very large amount of documents that are often detailed, providing historians with a great deal of information to research. Unfortunately, this very same detail can be difficult to understand, especially when there is legal 'jargon' (terminology). With an organized approach to research, these challenges can be overcome by persistent historians. Your task is to examine a few letters and legal documents about the Persons Case and answer some questions to help develop your historical analysis skills.

The Famous Five and the Person's case: Are all Canadians equal?

The Canadian experience with citizenship equality and civil rights has been a long and difficult one. Although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) guarantees that "every individual is equal before and under the law... without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability," Canadian laws have often been discriminatory in the past.

Women, in particular, have suffered from unfair laws. Until 1929, they could not be appointed to the Senate or hold public office even if they were granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1918. In fact, one simple word denied women access to the Senate and public life. The word "persons" in the Canadian Constitution did not seem to include women!

Fortunately, a group of dedicated female activists from Alberta, known as the "Famous Five," and supported by various groups and associations in Canada, struggled vigorously to change the existing legal definition of a person. Using a section of the Supreme Court Act allowing constitutional change if petitioned by at least five citizens, these women requested an answer to the question about whether women could serve in the Canadian Senate. The final and decisive response came from the Privy Council in England on October 18, 1929.

The Famous Five and the Person's case: Are all Canadians equal?

Examine the following historical sources and answer the analysis questions provided to you.

To achieve your objective, you need to use primary source letters as evidence. To know more about the concept of "primary source evidence" in history, consult The Historical Thinking Project

*(this single-lesson is taken from the detailed lesson on the Persons' Case in the Members' Lessons)

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