October 18 – Persons Day in Canada.

1928 2012
 Nellie McClung picture circa 1900. Fetus sucking thumb.
Not a person Not a person
Canadian women were not considered persons until the famous Persons case in 1929. A constitutional challenge was launched on behalf of five women: Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise C. McKinney, Irene Parlby and Emily F. Murphy. While recognizing women as human beings, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that women were not persons within the meaning of the British North America Act of 1867. This decision was appealed and judgement was rendered on October 18th, 1929 by the Privy Council in England affirming that women were indeed persons. Were women “persons” prior to this judgement? Of course, they were! The decision of the Privy Council only marked the moment in history when women were granted legal recognition of their personhood. It is incredible that, in the 21st century, the child in the womb still does not have the status of personhood under the Criminal Code of Canada. In fact, according to Section 223, the unborn child is not even legally recognized as a “human being” until “it has completely proceeded, in a living state from the body of the mother whether or not (a) it has breathed (b) it has an independent circulation (c) the navel string is severed.” Therefore, two months, two weeks, two seconds before birth, the preborn child is considered a non-human and consequently cannot be legally recognized as a “person”. As a result, this child receives no protection whatsoever under criminal law. Given all the technological and scientific advances, such as ultrasound and intrauterine photography, which gives a clear picture of life before birth, is it not just as absurd in 2002 to deprive the baby awaiting birth status of personhood as it was in 1928 to deny personhood to women?
Isn’t it time to update Section 223 of the Criminal Code to reflect the scientific knowledge of this century?

This ad appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on October 18th, 2002.


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