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The members of the Bird Commission: from left to right, John Peters Humprey, professor of international law at McGill University and members of various agencies of the United Nations (UN) (ONU); Lola M. Lange, teacher and president of a rural women’s organization in Alberta; Jeanne Lapointe, professor at the Faculty of Arts at Université Laval; Florence Bird, Commission president; Jacques Henripin, director of the Department of Demography at the Université de Montréal; Doris Ogilvie, judge from New Brunswick; and Elsie Gregory MacGill, member of aeronautic committees at the National Research Council in Ottawa
John Peters Humprey, Lola M. Lange, Jeanne Lapointe, Florence Bird, Jacques Henripin, Doris Ogilvie and Elsie Gregory MacGill

The Bird Commission on the Status of the Canadian Woman

Creation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women

Throughout the Western World in the 1960s, there were questions regarding human rights, Blacks, minorities and racial segregation. But what of women's rights and gender-based discrimination? Pressured by groups of women increasingly present on the public place and following the example of the American government and seven others in Europe, the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson established a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967. Its president, Florence Bayard Bird, an Ottawa journalist, was seconded by six commissioners including two from Quebec: Jeanne Lapointe, professor of literature at Université Laval, and Jacques Henripin, professor of demography at the Université de Montréal. Up to 469 memoranda and some one thousand letters were presented to the Bird Commission. During the 37 days of public hearings, the commissioners heard from nearly 900 people.

The Bird Commission: Forceful Conclusions

The Bird Commission tabled its bulky report in 1970. The findings were disconcerting. In principle, men and women were equal; but in fact, they were not. The average income of men and women over 65 years of age provided a fine example. The income of men ($3 044) was nearly double that of women ($1 596). To remedy the situation, the commissioners tabled a long series of recommendations to iron out the inequalities between the sexes in different spheres of society. The avant-garde measures proposed included a minimum legal age of 18 for marriage, the multiplication of daycare centres and birth control clinics and the right to abortion. Another section of the report dealt with the specific problems faced by Aboriginal women.

Reception of the Bird Commission Report

The Bird Commission report was well received overall. However, several women's groups thought that it added nothing new and had not gone far enough. Irrespective of this, the great merit of his report is that it brought to light the inequalities and injustices suffered by women and heightened the awareness of Canadians regarding these issues.

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