[Introductory note: In 1929, the “Famous Five” feminist activists (Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy,and Irene Parlby) argued in the Supreme Court of Canada that women were “persons,” as the Canadian
constitution puts it, qualified to sit in the country’s senate. The court disagreed, four judges to one, largely on the basis of what we now call an “originalist” view – that women would not have been viewed as qualified persons in 1867, when the constitution came into force. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reversed in favour of the Five. The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Sankey, famously held (Lords Darling, Merrivale, Tomlin, and Sir Lancelot Sanderson concurring): “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits. The object of the Act was to grant a Constitution to Canada. ‘Like all written constitutions it has been subject to development through usage and convention.’ (Canadian Constitutional Studies, Sir Robert Borden (1922), p. 55).’”]
“The Senate’s for Party patrons,”
reads the judgment of the Chief,
“and that excludes all matrons,
So what’s their stewing beef?
While the female might be ‘people,’ historically she’s feeble,
and the law it’s clearly anti-person Nell.”
So the Five packed up their briefs, and this insult of the chief’s,
’cause it Fired ’em up as hot as deepest Hell.
They appealed to that old Darling,
and to Sankey the Lord Chancellor,
The former known for snarling
the latter an ageing bachelor
whom the Five nonetheless seduced, or at least their empathy loosed,
sitting in the glorious Council Privy.
No, not the public loos there, where persons spend a penny fare,
I mean the high Judicial Com-mit-tee!
The Supremes looked to Confederation,
and the Fathers intent originally,
“But what about the mums, then?”
asked the P.C., more correct politically.
“Never mind that we’re five brothers, we’ve all got sisters and mothers –
Like Hen, Nell, Lou, Irene and Emily.
Lords, libbers, vegetarians, we’re each of us homo sapiens
Who understand the law’s a living tree.”
So The Five pitting five against five
proved that men supreme don’t alone survive
as a matter of natural selection.
For we wouldn’t be alive,
or on Senate perquisites thrive,
unless Mum’s the word that helps describe a person.
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