McMillan marks 90th anniversary of ‘Persons’ case

One of firm’s founders was the lead lawyer in the landmark case that signified a shift in the social order

McMillan marks 90th anniversary of ‘Persons’ case
Henrietta Muir Edwards was one of the legal reformers in the ‘Persons’ case

The landmark “Persons” case, where the Privy Council ruled that women should be legally recognized as “persons” under the law, marked its 90th anniversary on Oct. 18.

In a blog post commemorating the anniversary, McMillan LLP said that Newton Wesley Rowell, a founding partner of the firm that would become McMillan, was the lead lawyer on the case.

Rowell represented Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, who later became known as the “Famous Five.”  According McMillan, the five women showed a determination in their belief that women could help shape the country through various roles, particularly that of possessing eligibility for appointment to the Senate of Canada.

In 1929, Rowell argued the case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain which decided that women were ‘persons’ in the context of the British North America Act, making them eligible to be appointed to the Canadian Senate.

According to McMillan, following the legal victory, Rowell and the Famous Five’s actions led to  further developments in Canadian law, such as the “living tree doctrine,” which opened the Canadian Constitution to interpretation. The doctrine, it said, provides a framework which allows for the interpretation of the Constitution to meet evolving social realities.

“As such, the ‘Persons’ case decision marked a pivotal shift in social order, highlighting both a victory for women’s rights and a greater step toward equality for women,” the firm said. “There is no surprise that Newton Rowell was selected to represent the Famous Five, as he is recognized for setting the foundation for the firm’s deep rooted values and commitment to the advancement of women in leadership roles in Canada.”

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