30th Anniversary of the Other ‘Persons’ Case

Here’s a story about cultural impact that too few people know about. The “Eve” Supreme Court ruling which is on a par with the original, “Persons” case.

Imagine being a young woman who society moves swiftly by. A society, if it sees you at all, sees you as an object of pity and charity. A society that has no expectation of you. That has shaped what you see, feel, think and do since you were born. That won’t pay attention to your preferences. In fact thinks you have none. That has determined you should be sterilized. Let’s call this woman Eve.

Imagine you are a group of women and men who bristle at all the labels, which overshadow their capabilities and essential humanity. They call themselves People First and their rallying cry is, “Label Jars not People.” They hear the courts are about to make a decision about whether Eve should be sterilized. They don’t know Eve, but they do know about assaults like involuntary sterilization. They want to make sure someone speaks on behalf of Eve in court.

But wait. There’s a catch. Society moves swiftly by them too. Sees them as objects of pity and charity. Has no expectations. Talks above and around them. Doesn’t listen to them. Doesn’t accept their legal personhood.

If you can imagine all that, then you have a sense of the effort required for them to take the Eve case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Rallying support, instructing lawyers and raising money. All the while contending with the poisonous illusions associated with the label, ‘mental handicap.’

You also have some insight into the moral courage of their leader, Barb Goode. I’ve written about Barb before. I consider her to be the unsung hero of the disability movement, on a par with Rick Hansen and Terry Fox.

In E (Mrs) v Eve she and her colleagues did the impossible. A Charter case led and won by people with disabilities. A Charter case that reversed centuries of legal discrimination, persecution and brutality. And drove a stake through Canada’s sad history of enforced sterilization.

October 23rd is the 30th anniversary of the ‘Eve’ Supreme Court decision, which ruled that you cannot sterilize persons with intellectual disabilities (female or male) without their consent. And led to the recognition of people with developmental disabilities as legal persons.

That’s something more people would be celebrating were it not for a societal malfunction caused by patriarchy and what I can only describe as intellectual imperialism. Something you will be pleased to know Barb Goode continues to address.


1) Check out this recent video of Barb discussing her role in the Eve case. She shows up at the 2-minute mark.

2) Want to learn more about leaders within the disability movement who have had a profound societal impact? Then sign up for the IMPACT-ability webinar series that Vickie and I are hosting.


…the decision involves values in an area where our social history clouds our vision and encourages many to perceive the mentally handicapped as somewhat less than human. This attitude has been aided and abetted by now discredited eugenic theories. (E (Mrs) v Eve Supreme Court ruling)

Musical accompaniment this post Nothing’s Changed by Christa Couture. Purchase.


Barb Goode: Unsung Hero of the Disability Movement

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Indigenous Wisdom and Peacemaking

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