Ad Hockers

Written by: Susan Delacourt

On Feb. 14, 1981, more than a thousand women converged on the West Block of Parliament Hill for a gathering that would result in a major constitutional achievement – gender-equality protection in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

It began as an act of defiance in the midst of Pierre Trudeau’s efforts to bring a new Constitution Act to Canada.

While much progress had been made in defining some rights in the initial negotiations over the constitution and Charter, a big question mark still loomed over women’s rights as 1980 drew to a close. Large hopes were pinned on a women’s-rights conference planned for early 1981. But the meeting was abruptly cancelled by the Liberal government in January.

Doris Anderson, the trail-blazing former editor of Chatelaine magazine, resigned her position as head of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women in protest at the cancellation. Suddenly, women in the halls of power in Ottawa and all over the country were galvanized – they would hold their own “ad hoc” conference on Valentine’s Day, 1981.

The conference and the committee, called “Ad Hockers” became a powerful force for change and made it impossible for the architects of the new Constitution Act to ignore women’s equality rights. By April, 1981, just a couple of months later, Canada had a new Charter of Rights that included Section 28, which states:

Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

Nothing ad hoc about that, but a testament to a historic Valentine’s Day on Parliament Hill in 1981.

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