Status of Women
This timeline highlights important milestones leading to all women’s participation in politics (ex: voting, running for office). The 1916 change to the law that previously disqualified women from voting on the basis of their gender was an important first step on the journey to suffrage. However, many women continued to be denied their political rights on the basis of race, disability, employment or religion for many more years.
This symbol above is used to highlight key dates along the continuing journey of full participation for all women.
During the colonial period, Indigenous peoples are not explicitly denied the right to vote. However, property qualifications exclude the vast majority. To be eligible to vote, Indigenous peoples can apply for an allotment of reserve lands that would be subject to assessment and taxation, as well as give up their treaty rights, which, in turn, denies their right to live with one’s family and culture.
Métis people are eligible to vote as they do not hold ‘Indian’ status or treaty rights.
Manitoba enters confederation.
Men, who are 21 years of age or older and with property, are given the right to vote. Voters’ lists for federal elections are based on provincial eligibility. Many Indigenous peoples, at this time, could not afford to buy a separate tract of land and were disqualified mostly for this reason.
Icelandic immigrant women, who previously had voting rights in Iceland, begin to campaign for the right to vote.
Manitoba and British Columbia take part in their first general elections.
Manitoba disqualifies Judges of the Queen’s Bench, and any members working for a member of the Legislative Assembly, including poll clerks, returning officers, court clerks and sheriffs from voting.
Manitoba also explicitly denies women from voting by stating “No woman shall be qualified to vote at any election for any electoral division whatsoever.”
Louis Riel, is elected to the Parliament of Canada (the first of three times) but, because of fears for his safety, he goes into self-imposed exile and never actually holds his seat.
Canada’s Dominion Elections Act introduces the secret ballot for federal elections. Before this, votes were cast orally and could be subject to blackmail and intimidation.
Canada revokes the right to vote federally from all judges, as well as from individuals who worked for candidates during an election (ex: official agents, clerks or messengers).
In British Columbia, all persons of Chinese descent (immigrants, citizens and Canada-born) are denied the right to vote provincially.
Canada’s first women’s suffrage organization is established: Toronto Women’s Literary Club (later changed to Toronto Women’s Suffrage Association in 1883, then the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association in 1889).
Manitoba disqualifies “Indians or persons of Indian blood receiving an annuity from the crown” as well as anyone deemed “legally incapacitated” [which included people with a mental illness, physical illness or disability] from voting in provincial elections.
In British Columbia, all persons of Japanese descent (immigrants, citizens and Canada-born) are denied the right to vote provincially.
Canada introduces the Indian Act which outlines “obligations to First Nations peoples, and determines ‘status’ – a legal recognition of a person’s First Nations heritage, which affords certain rights such as the right to live on reserve land.” This act is not inclusive of Métis and Inuit peoples.
The Married Women’s Property Act gave married women in Ontario the same legal capacity as men, in matters such as making legal agreements and buying property.
The Canadian government allows provincial governments to draw up federal voting lists for elections.
Blatant racial discrimination first appears in Canada’s Electoral Franchise Act, the first federal act specifically outlining the law as it applies to voting. This act explicitly denies the right to vote to any First Nations man in Manitoba, British Columbia, Keewatin and the Northwest Territories that lives on a reserve without owning a “separate and distinct tract of land, and whose improvements on such separate tract are not of the value of at least $150,” as well as those who are not otherwise already qualified to vote.
Status First Nations peoples in Eastern Canada who meet other existing requirements gain the right to vote.
Women, 21 years of age or older, and of British descent or naturalization are given the right to vote in municipal elections in Manitoba.
Property restrictions are removed from The Manitoba Elections Act.
First Nations receiving treaty money and/or have received annuity/treaty money “within three years prior” to the election date are added to disqualifications. Any persons working for the Government of Canada, attending a military school, or working for a provincial court (including registrars, bailiffs and sheriffs) are also disqualified from voting in Manitoba. Wording for “legally incapacitated” changed to “lunatics, idiots, and persons of unsound mind.”
Women, 21 years of age and older, and of British descent or naturalization, are given the right to vote in school board elections and the right to serve as school trustees in Manitoba.
Dr. Amelia Yeomans begins leading the Manitoba suffrage movement.
“Persons confined in any gaol [jail], penitentiary, asylum or other public institution as inmate or prisoner,” are disqualified from voting in Manitoba. This would include people such as criminals, some people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as people admitted into hospitals.
Women’s Christian Temperance Union (Manitoba Branch) endorses votes for women and presents a petition to the government calling for female suffrage.
Dr. Yeomans organizes and presides over a mock parliament in which speakers present arguments for and against suffrage.
Dr. Yeomans creates the Manitoba Equal Suffrage Club.
The Canadian government, led by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, amends the Franchise Act. Under the Franchise Act, federal voting defers to provincial voting qualifications. The Franchise Act also explicitly denies any “holder of office, any person employed in any capacity of Canada or of the province, or anyone belonging to any other class of persons who are declared to be disqualified,” such as prisoners in a jail or prison undergoing punishment for a crime, as well as patients in ‘lunatic’ asylums or inmates at a charitable institution. In addition, people who are hired and paid to work as agents, clerks, solicitors or legal counsel to an electoral candidate, and those found guilty of election fraud, are barred from voting in federal elections. Returning officers and poll clerks are also barred from voting in their own electoral ridings.
People of Chinese and Japanese descent living in British Columbia gain the right to vote in federal elections (but are still disqualified from provincial elections). Since First Nations peoples are not considered a class of persons at this time, they remain disqualified from voting in the federal election if they are barred from voting in their provinces.
Status First Nations peoples in Eastern Canada, who gained the right to vote in 1885, have their right to vote revoked.
Margret Benedictsson begins publishing the Icelandic journal Freyja (meaning “Woman”), which will publish articles promoting the advancement of women.
Women, 21 years of age and older, and of British descent or naturalization across Canada, are allowed to vote in municipal elections.
In British Columbia, Tomekichi Homma, a male British subject who was born in Japan, launches the first challenge, seeking a court order to have his name entered on the voters’ list. Homma loses the case and is excluded from voting in his own country’s democratic process.
Manitoba adds a reading requirement to be qualified to vote. Any person in Canada who is not a British subject by birth, and who has not lived in Canada for at least seven years, must be able to read selected or all portions of The Manitoba Act in one of the following languages: English, French, German, Icelandic or any Scandinavian language. If someone was unable to read a specified section, that person would be disqualified.
The Voice, Manitoba’s labour movement newspaper, endorses women’s suffrage.
Women in Manitoba stripped of their right to vote in municipal elections.
Women, 21 years of age or older, and of British descent or naturalization, in Manitoba re-granted the right to vote in municipal elections.
The Voice begins to publish regular articles by Ada Muir of the Women’s Labour League, promoting women’s suffrage.
In British Columbia, all “Hindus” – a description applied to anyone from the Indian subcontinent (immigrants, citizens and Canada-born) who was not of Anglo-Saxon origin, regardless if their religious affiliations were Hindu – are denied the right to vote.
The Icelandic Suffrage Association in Winnipeg is led by Margret Benedictsson.
The Grain Growers’ Guide starts a women’s page that carries regular and detailed reports on suffrage movements around the world.
In British Columbia, the Municipal Elections Act makes it clear that no person of Asian or First Nations background may vote in municipal elections.
In Saskatchewan, people of Chinese descent (immigrant, citizen or Canada-born) are denied the right to vote in provincial elections.
The National Council of Women comes out in favour of women’s suffrage.
The Political Equity League is formed in Manitoba. The league is concerned with human rights and social justice issues. One of the founding members was Nellie McClung and worked alongside other well-educated activists such as Winona Flett, E. Cora Hind, Dr. Amelia Yeomans, Francis Marion Benyon, Lillian Benyon Thomas and Mary Crawford.
Today, critics take issue with the Political Equality League’s claim that members were concerned with human rights and social justice issues. These critics point out that Nellie McClung was also an activist in less desirable causes, including being an influential promoter of the eugenics movement.
he Manitoba Act is revised and removes reading requirement from voting eligibility.
The Political Equity League forms a large delegation, along with other associations, to present their case for granting women the franchise.They also host a mock Parliament in which gender roles are reversed and a mockery is made of how society would be in chaos should men be allowed the right to vote.
The Manitoba government, under Tobias C. Norris, announces it will introduce suffrage legislation, provided it is formally presented with a petition bearing at least 20,000 signatures of those in favour. It is presented, later in the year, with a petition including over 40,000 names.
Those actively serving in the Canadian military are given the right to vote federally by mail.
Manitoba becomes the first province to give women aged 21 and over of British descent or citizenship, who are not otherwise disqualified, the right to vote and hold provincial office.
Those who were disqualified in 1916 included Status First Nations peoples receiving, or who recently (in the past three years) received, annuity or treaty money; some people with mental and physical disabilities, prison inmates, people in hospitals, judges and courthouse employees, government and political employees, and persons attending military college.
Later this year, Alberta and Saskatchewan give women, aged 21 and over of British descent, the right to vote and hold provincial office.
The Political Equity League disbands as leaders take different perspectives regarding the First World War as well as The Wartime Election Act.
The Military Voters Act is created to increase voter turnout in federal elections. A military voter is any “British subject, male or female, who is an active or retired member of the Canadian armed forces, including Indians, persons under 21 years of age, independent of any residency requirement, as well as any British subject ordinarily resident in Canada on active duty in Europe in the Canadian, British, or any other allied army .”
The “Bluebirds,” a group of around 2,000 military nurses, become the first women to use their voting rights through The Military Voters Act.
The War-time Election Act gives the right to vote to the “spouses, widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of any persons, male or female, living or dead, who [are] serving or who had served in the Canadian forces, provided they met the age, nationality and residency requirements” of their province.
The Wartime Election Act also disenfranchises conscientious objectors, and British subjects naturalized after 1902 who are born in an enemy country or who habitually speak an enemy language, and anyone considered “Mennonites” or “Doukhobors” who will not serve in the military due to religion, excluding those who volunteer to serve.
The Dominion Elections Act is amended but keeps the clause that denies people the right to vote in a federal election if they are not allowed to vote in their own provincial elections. Persons who are excluded by some provinces, such as Chinese, Japanese and some Indigenous peoples, are, therefore, automatically excluded.
The Canada Elections Act gives women of British descent or naturalization, 21 years of age or older and otherwise meeting provincial eligibility requirements, the right to vote in federal elections, regardless if they had obtained provincial franchise.
The Canada Elections Act gives women, 21 years of age or older and otherwise meeting provincial eligibility requirements, the right to stand for federal office.
The Dominion Elections Act is amended, extending the vote to all women in Canada (not otherwise disqualified) andremoves all property requirements to vote in federal elections, and introduced advanced voting.
Those who were disqualified from voting federally in Manitoba included Status First Nations peoples receiving or who recently received (in the past three years) annuity or treaty money, some people with mental and physical disabilities, prison inmates, people in hospitals, judges and courthouse employees, government and political employees, and persons attending military college.
In British Columbia, first generation (Issei) Japanese veterans of the First World War, who by their service and causalities had proved their loyalty to Canada, try again, unsuccessfully, to win the vote.
Agnes McPhail of Ontario becomes the first woman elected to the House of Commons.
The Chinese Exclusion Act receives assent and prohibits Chinese immigration to Canada.
This act disqualifies all Chinese people in Canada (Canadian-born and naturalized) from voting in all provincial and federal elections.
First Nations veterans of the First World War, including veterans living on reserves, gain the right to vote federally. Before 1924, those First Nations veterans, who returned to their reserves after the war, were revoked of their right to vote.
The 'Famous Five' – Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney – petition for a Supreme Court of Canada interpretation on whether the term 'qualified persons' in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, includes some women as persons eligible for appointment to the Senate. This became known as “the Persons Case.”
Women gain the right to hold a seat in the senate. The British Privy Council reserves the decision and calls the exclusion of women from public office “a relic of days more barbarous than ours.”
Manitoba allows ‘Indians’ or persons of “part Indian blood...who served in any country in the naval or military forces of Great Britain or Canada, or of any other British possession...or any of the allies of Great Britain in the Great War,” to vote in provincial elections, but may require them to take an oath beforehand.
The Manitoba Act also changes the wording for “lunatics, idiots, or persons of unsound mind” to “patients in a mental diseases hospital or institutions for mental defectives.”
In British Columbia, the legislation is amended to allow surviving Issei (first generation Japanese immigrant) veterans to vote in provincial elections.
The Dominion Franchise Act explicitly disqualifies any First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada from voting in federal elections, with the exception of First World War veterans.
Manitoba passes the new Libel Act that allows a person to fight against a law that is likely to expose persons of that race or creed to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Salome Halldorson becomes the second woman, and the first of Icelandic origin, elected into the Manitoba Legislature.
In British Columbia, the Japanese Canadian Citizens League (JCCL), created by second generation Japanese Canadians [Nisei]), sought to gain the right to vote federally. Again, they are unsuccessful.
Quebec becomes the last province to allow women (who are otherwise eligible) to vote in provincial elections.
Canada repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act, allowing all people of Chinese descent the right to vote in provincial and federal elections.
In British Columbia, all people of Chinese descent are granted the right to vote in provincial elections.
In British Columbia, people of the Doukhobor, Hutterite and Mennonite religions have their right to vote revoked, unless they have served in the armed forces. They lose their right to vote because of their refusals to fight in the Second World War and swear their allegiance to the Crown.
The Dominion Elections Act is amended and repeals a section which had previously disqualified citizens from voting in federal elections if they had been disqualified from voting in their home provinces.
Military veterans – men or women – receiving treatment in a hospital are given the right to vote.
Property qualifications are abolished across Canada.
Students can be registered in two constituencies: that of the family home and that of the university, but they can vote in only one.
A parliamentary committee recommends that First Nations people be given the vote in federal elections.
In British Columbia, all Japanese and First Nations peoples are granted the right to vote in provincial elections.
British Columbia becomes the first province to grant provincial voting rights to First Nations peoples.
The Inuit receive the right to vote in federal elections. However, since they are living in remote reserves, there is little effort to enable them to vote (ex: no access to ballot boxes).
Amendments to the federal Indian Act remove barriers to women’s rights to vote or hold office in bands for status First Nations women.
Status First Nations peoples granted the unfettered right to vote in Manitoba.
In British Columbia, Doukhobors, Hutterites and Mennonites regain the right to vote in provincial elections.
Doukhobors, Hutterites and Mennonites regain the right to vote federally.
The federal provision, disqualifying conscientious objectors and people speaking an enemy language, is abolished.
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker names Ellen Fairclough Secretary of State, the first woman cabinet minister in Canadian history.
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appoints James Gladstone (Akay Na-Muka, or “Many Guns”) to the Senate, becoming the first senator of First Nations origin.
Federal suffrage achieved universally on the basis of race or ethnicity.
First Nations peoples granted the unfettered right to vote in federal elections. However, many First Nations peoples fear they would have to give up their individual and group identities to vote.
People working for elections are also granted the right to vote in federal elections.
Federal election ballot boxes finally placed in all Inuit communities in the eastern Arctic, thus permitting full exercise of voting rights for Inuit people.
Mary Two-Axe Earley begins to organize and campaign for equal rights for First Nations women. It was in this year that she founded the provincial organization, “Equal Rights for Indian Women” (which later became the national “Indian Rights for Indian Women”).
Len Marchand becomes the first Status First Nations person elected to the House of Commons.
Quebec becomes the last province to allow First Nations peoples the unfettered right to vote at the provincial level. Universal suffrage is achieved on the basis of race or ethnicity provincially and federally.
The Official Languages Act is passed and voters everywhere now have the right to access election materials in either English or French.
Law is amended to provide that British subjects eligible to vote as of June 25, 1968, who have not yet adopted Canadian citizenship, will be disqualified from voting unless they attain citizenship by 1975. Before this, British subjects were qualified electors, but they had to be “ordinarily resident in Canada.”
An amendment to the Canada Elections Act is made, lowering the voting age and minimum age to be a candidate from 21 years to 18 in both federal and provincial elections.
British Columbia NDP MLA Rosemary Brown becomes the first Black woman in Canada to be elected to a legislature.
British subjects, who have not yet adopted Canadian citizenship, are disqualified from voting in any provincial or federal election.
An amendment to the law introduces transfer certificates, allowing electors to vote at advance polls with level access if their own is inaccessible. Polling stations also start to be placed in more public places and level access becomes more widely available.
The Election Act of Manitoba changes qualifications from British subjects to Canadian citizens and denies the right to vote for people who have been deemed “mentally disabled” by the court of the Queen’s Bench or who are committed to institutions under The Mental Health Act.
The House of Commons Special Committee on the Disabled and Handicapped releases a report, Obstacles, which shows that many barriers to the vote remain for people with disabilities. Among the committee’s recommendations are that Canada establish a “postal vote system similar to Manitoba’s” to make voting more accessible; that the Chief Electoral Officer cease the practice of centralizing polling places and accommodate, as fully as possible, the mobility challenges of persons with disabilities; and that the Chief Electoral Officer establish orientation sessions for polling place personnel on the needs of voters with disabilities.
The new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, embedded in the Constitution, states the right of all citizens to vote and to be a candidate, at the same time opening the door to court challenges based on discriminatory voting regulations.
Premier Rene Levesque gives Mary Two-Axe Earley his chair at the table at the constitutional conference when the other first ministers refuse to let her speak. This forces all political leaders to listen to her pleas for justice for First Nations women.
The Chief Electoral Officer releases a statutory report to parliament that provides an overview of their discussion about the Obstacles report’s recommendations. The report shows that Elections Canada has already implemented, at least on a limited basis, several administrative measures recommended by the committee, or are planning to implement them for the next election. (ex: polling stations in nursing homes/chronic care hospitals and orientations with staff personnel).
Jeanne Sauvé becomes the first woman to hold the office of the Governor General of Canada.
Parliament attempts, through Bill C-79, to respond to some of the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the House of Commons Special Committee on the Disabled and Handicapped. Among its provisions is a requirement that all returning officers’ offices, advanced polling stations and centralized polling stations are to be located in buildings with level access.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provision allows the right to vote to federal judges, federal inmates serving less than two years, and persons with mental disabilities. The charter states that such limitations cannot be justified as “reasonable” in a “free and democratic society.” The Canada Elections Act is changed in 1993 to include these rulings made by the Federal Court of Canada.
Returning officers are now required to submit detailed reports on the steps they have taken to implement the level access policy. These reports indicate that 1,048 ramps have been installed providing level access to 4,834 polling stations. Overall, more than 92 per cent of polling stations have level access.
Audrey McLaughlin, Member of Parliament from the Yukon, is elected as the leader of the federal NDP and becomes the first woman ever to lead a national political party in Canada.
The Elections Act of Manitoba removes the disqualification of patients of “mental hospitals,” but keeps the clause that denies people the right to vote if they are declared “mentally disabled” by the court of the Queen’s Bench or committed to a committee.
British Columbia’s Rita Johnston becomes Canada’s first non-elected female premier.
The Canada Elections Act is amended and guarantees level access at polling stations for voters with disabilities, special templates for voters who are blind or visually impaired to preserve secrecy of their vote, as well as providing transfer certificates to electors with disabilities to vote at an accessible polling station.
Bill C-78 implementations result in more ramps being built which allow for an accessibility rate of 99 per cent, the development of an inventory of all sign language interpreters across the country, as well as replacement of text instructions with graphic instructions showing electors how to mark and fold their ballot papers.
Kim Campbell becomes the first female Prime Minister of Canada.
Prince Edward Island’s Catherine Callbeck becomes the first elected female premier in Canada.
The Canada Elections Act is amended and extends the right to register on election day to electors from both rural and urban areas, extends the use of the special ballot, permitting any elector to vote at an advance poll, as well as removing voting disqualifications for judges, people with mental disabilities, and inmates serving less than two years in correctional institutions.
The Manitoba Election Act is amended to allow any inmate serving less than five years in a correctional institution to vote in the provincial election.
Elections Canada continues to work with groups representing persons with disabilities to improve its products and services. Notably, this includes:
- providing a general information kit in Braille and large print, and on audio-cassette and diskette
- preparing the information brochure Householder in plain language
- working with the Canadian Association of the Deaf to produce an American Sign Language video, highlighting important dates in the election calendar and information on the voting process
- promoting access to its teletypewriter (TTY) phone service for electors with hearing impairment
Richard Sauvé challenges the law that prevents prisoners from voting in elections. The Supreme Court of Canada rules that prisoners serving terms of more than two years could not be disqualified from voting; stating that legislation infringing on prisoners’ right to vote is not a reasonable limit of that right. This is not amended in the Canada Elections Act until two years later.
Parliament finally amends the Canada Elections Act to remove the voting disqualification for inmates serving over two years.
The Canada Elections Act is rewritten in plain language.
Other amendments to the Canada Elections Act include easier accessibility for voters such as reduction of residency requirements for students and extending advanced voting to any citizen without requiring a reason.
The right to vote is extended to Manitobans who are away from the province for an extended period while working for the government or a recognized international organization or attending school.
All inmates in Manitoba are given the right to vote, regardless of sentence. Inmates who resided in Manitoba before being imprisoned will be allowed to vote within the electoral division they resided in previously. For those who did not live in Manitoba, their vote will be counted in the electoral division of the prison.
Canadian legislation creates a fixed date for federal elections unless parliament is dissolved earlier. Federal elections are to be held on the third Monday in October, every four years.
Other Amendments to the Canada Elections Act include requiring voters to prove their identity and address before being handed a ballot as well as creating accommodations to those who have no residential or civic address.
Manitoba announces legislation that creates a fixed date for its provincial election. Provincial elections are to be held the third Tuesday in April, every four years.
Eligibility to vote in Manitoba: Canadian citizen, 18 years or older on election day, resided in Manitoba for at least six months before election day, and a resident of the electoral division in which the election is being held
The greatest number of women (88) has been elected to the House of Commons, up from 76 in 2011.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government creates the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history, consisting of 15 females and 16 males (including Trudeau).
Below is a list of the current eligible voters according to the current (as of October 12, 2015) Election Act which has been in effect since June 30, 2015.