April 24 marks the 87th anniversary of the famous “Persons Case” (Reference re meaning of the word “Persons” in s. 24 of British North America Act,  SCR 276, 1928 CanLII 55). On April 24, 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the word “Persons” in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867 did not include female persons, and therefore women were not eligible to sit in the Senate. This was reversed a year later by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain.
The Court’s logic was that if the British Parliament had meant for women to be included as “qualified persons” under s. 24 of the British North America Act, it would have said so. The Privy Council rejected this argument (Edwards v. Attorney General of Canada  AC 124). The members of the Privy Council established a principle of understanding that justice requires judges to consider an evolving social context when they interpret laws. The Lord Chancellor Sankey said it best in his decision:
“…and to those who ask why the word should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not.”
“Customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared.”
” The exclusion of all women from public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours, but it must be remembered that the necessity of the times often forced on man customs which in later years were not necessary.”
The “Persons Case” cost a total of $23,368.47 in lawyers’ fees paid by the Government of Canada. In 1930, Montreal’s Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Senate.