Award celebrates a long march to personhood

One of this year’s Persons Day Award recipients says the times and the timing have special importance.

On Oct. 18, Toronto City Council recognized the efforts of Deena Ladd, the co-ordinator of the Worker’s Action Centre. Ladd works with the centre to improve the lives of women through equity and changes to the labour market. She says at least 37 per cent of the workforce remains unstable, with women having fewer rights than others.

“Most of these women know their rights and are aware of how they should be treated,” Ladd said. “However, they’re afraid to speak up because they fear getting fired . . . No one should ever have to live that way.”

Women members of Toronto City Council chose Deena Ladd and Heather McGregor as the 2008 recipients of the annual Persons Day Award.

The award, named after Constance E. Hamilton, the first female member of Toronto City Council, recognizes a landmark court judgement of 1929. Until that time, women were not recognized as persons according to the British North America Act (the Canadian constitution). The victory allowed women to run for senate and participate in all aspects of public life.

According to journalist and political activist Judy Rebick, the award acknowledges an important step forward for women in Canada.

“Persons Day celebrates the hard work of women who created a status for women in our country,” Rebick said. “And this award acknowledges the efforts of individuals who are advancing the status of women in our community.”

Ladd acknowledges the timeliness of the award in terms of the work done by her organization, which pays particular attention to racialized immigrant women in the community. The Workers’ Action Centre uses English classes, workshops and job fairs to help women gain more control of their lives.

The second Persons Day Award recipient, Heather McGregor, appreciates the award because it draws attention to some of the great struggles women have to overcome everyday. As the CEO of the YWCA, she acknowledges the success found in fields such as academia, medicine and law, but says there’s still a long way to go in terms of politics.

“Right now there’s only about 22 per cent of women in the House of Commons,” McGregor said. “That’s where we need to be so that we can make the biggest difference.”

Rebick notes that women have taken great strides towards equity since the Persons Case victory. However, she also said that factors have hindered this movement in recent decades.

“During this same period of success, there has been an imposition of right-wing governments which has increased the gap between rich and poor,” Rebick said. “And the sad reality is that the greater majority of women out there live below the poverty line.”

Mayor David Miller declared Oct. 18 as Persons Day to celebrate the judgement passed in the Persons case of 1929.

“We’ve certainly come far since then and it’s important to celebrate all the achievements along the way,” Rebick said. “But there’s still a long way to go because a majority of the problems in the community affect or involve women somehow.”

The two winners will receive their awards during Toronto’s annual Human Rights Day Awards program at City Hall on Nov. 27.