Monday, October 12, 2009

Posthumous Senate Appoinment for Famous 5

From The Star:
Eighty years after they changed history, the Famous 5 have done it again - this time by becoming the only Canadians to be appointed honorary senators.

The Famous 5 are Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, and in 1929, they won a landmark court ruling that recognized women as "persons," thus opening up the doors for women to sit in the Senate.

This week they were posthumously appointed to the Canadian Senate.

This is the first time that such an honour will be bestowed upon a Canadian, said Frances Wright, founder of the non-profit Famous 5 Foundation.

"It's a fabulous gift," she said on Sunday from Calgary. "It shows that dreams in Canada can come true and particularly when you dedicate your life, as the Famous 5 did, to contributing to the growth of Canada."

The Senate voted to name the women honorary senators on Oct. 8, just 10 days before the 80th anniversary of their historic triumph.

The Famous 5 lobbied to have women included in the definition of `persons' under the BNA Act of 1867 so they could participate in all levels of political life.

After failing to persuade the Supreme Court, the Famous 5 took their fight to the British Privy Council, then Canada's highest court, and won.

"By not being present in the Senate, (women) had no ability to amend a bill or encourage its passage," Wright explained. "That's why they wanted women to be in the Senate."

Of the five women, Emily Murphy most yearned to become a senator but this would never happen, Wright said.

In 1930, she was passed over for a senate opening for Alberta businessman Patrick Burns. This was puzzling, Wright said, because Burns was a Liberal and then prime minister, R.B. Bennett, was a Conservative, like Murphy.

Murphy would die a year later and she never again found an opportunity to be named a senator. Until now.

"These were women who had tremendous impact," Wright said. "They could have been outstanding senators if prejudice hadn't prevented it."

Today, 35 of Canada's 105 Senate seats are occupied by women. The first female Canadian senator was Cairine Wilson, appointed in 1930, just months after the Person's Case ruling.

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