Constitute! How women put women’s equality into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Thirty years ago, 1,300 women made a sudden trip to Ottawa to hold a conference on women’s rights that the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau had cancelled.

Their efforts produced dramatic changes in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a story now retold in Constitute, a documentary on how Sections 15 and 28 became enshrined in the Charter.

As film maker Susan Bazilli told more than 100 gathered in Vancouver Oct. 18 for the premiere, the story of women’s equality in the Charter is “fundamentally about democracy and how we make democracy work.” It was a moving and exciting evening for many of the activists, young and old, who gathered at the showing sponsored by West Coast Leaf on Persons Day.

Despite the profound changes driven by the women who won Sections 15 and 28, one goal remained elusive. According to Mary Lou McPhedran, who participated in a panel discussion after the premiere, feminist activist Doris Anderson, who was interviewed for the film shortly before her death, assessed the victory this way: “We changed the Constitution, but we failed to change the electoral system.”

As a consequence, women have made great strides, but Canada and provinces like British Columbia still achieve poor grades when ranked against international standards of women’s rights.

Constitute is available online and comes packaged with a curriculum package to make it suitable for inclusion in BC school courses.