Shelagh Day has been highly active in human rights activism and legal reform since she was hired as the first human rights investigator in British Columbia history. After earning an undergraduate degree in Minnesota in 1963, Day was awarded a master’s degree at Harvard University in 1964. She began teaching at the University of British Columbia soon after. Day quickly realized that, although the university was happy to have someone with a degree from Harvard, it was less eager to offer a woman a tenure-track job. In fact, the University of British Columbia had little regard for female professors, and Day became involved with a group of female academics determined to address the university’s attitude towards women. After helping organize the country’s first women’s studies courses (open gatherings that drew hundreds of people to large lecture halls every week), Day authored a report on the status of women at the university. A year later she was working for Kathleen Ruff at the provincial human rights Branch. After leaving the Branch in 1978, Day had a distinguished career promoting human rights across Canada, including as Chair of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
Shelagh Day was awarded the Order of Canada in 2014. The citation reads as follows: “An authority on women’s rights, Shelagh Day is a catalyst for social change. As founding president of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and co-founder of the Court Challenges Program, she backed causes advancing the equality rights of girls and women. She has also been the driving force behind numerous initiatives and organizations that aim to realize human rights related to disability, race, poverty and economic inequality.”
Clément, Dominique. Equality Deferred: Sex Discrimination and British Columbia’s Human Rights State, 1953-84. Vancouver: UBC Press/Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2014.
Shelagh Day has also published extensively on human rights, including among others:
Day, Shelagh, Lucie Lamarche, and Ken Norman, eds. 14 Arguments in Favour of Human Rights Institutions. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2014.
Day, Shelagh. “Impediments to Achieving Equality.” In Equality and Judicial Neutrality, edited by Sheilah L. Martin and Kathleen E. Mahoney. 402-409. Toronto: Carswell, 1987.
Day, Shelagh. “The Process for Achieving Equality.” In Human Rights in Canada: Into the 1990s and Beyond, edited by Ryszard I. Cholewinski. 17-30. Ottawa: Human Rights Research and Education Centre, 1990.
Day, Shelagh. “Reassessing Statutory Human Rights Legislation Thirty Years Later: Affirmative Action and Equality Concepts.” Ottawa: Human Rights Research and Education Centre, 1995.
Day, Shelagh. A Report on the Status of Women at the University of British Columbia. Vancouver: Women’s Action Group UBC, 1973.