January 28th A Landmark Day for Canadian Women and the Law

Today, 100 years ago Canadian Women got the right to vote and 28 years ago they got the right to decide what happens to their bodies.

Why care about what happened 100 years ago?
On January 28, 1916, Manitoba became the first province to grant Canadian women the right to vote. This started a movement, which lead to Canadian women getting the right to vote across Canada.

Today, we give little thought to women’s suffrage and the role the right to vote plays in women’s lives. But imagine a time when women’s voices and representation at city hall, the provincial legislature and parliament depended upon how their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons voted. This is the world women such as Nellie McClung lived in.

For women and other equality seeking groups, the right to vote was, and still is in some countries, the first step towards achieving equality. Enfranchisement, or the right to vote, equates having a say in who sits at the legislative table and makes decisions about you.

Did you know…

  • While Manitoba’s women were the first women allowed to vote in provincial elections, women in Quebec had to wait until 1940 before they could vote in a provincial election.
  • Although Canadian women were granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1918, Aboriginal women had to wait until 1960 before they could vote in a federal election.

Why care about what happened 28 years ago?
“To be able to decide what to do and how to do it, to carry out one’s own decisions and accept their consequences, seems to me essential to one’s self-respect as a human being…” — Wilson J. in  R. v. Morgentaler

On January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in R. v. Morgentaler. In a 5-2 majority, the Court held that the Canadian Criminal Code‘s prohibition against abortion violated s.7 of the Charter which protects the life, liberty and security of the person.

Every first year constitutional law student has read these words. For today’s readers, the right to security of the person and being able to make your own decision about your body seems common sense. But when Justice Bertha Wilson, the first female justice appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, wrote them it was groundbreaking.

Where to now?
Equity, representation and the granting of rights under the law doesn’t just happen because it’s 2016. It takes the tireless work of courageous women and their allies. It takes being resilient in the face of daily setbacks.

So, if you have only five minutes today, then take a moment to thank all those pioneering Canadian women. Then take another five minutes to reflect on what you want Canadian women to celebrate in 100 years from now. Where do we need to go now to further equity for all?

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