Judy LaMarsh (1924 – 1980)

Judy LaMarsh, a well-known Canadian politician, was a lawyer, broadcaster and author, fought for the equal treatment of women in Canada throughout her political career.

She was the second woman in Canadian history to become a federal Cabinet Minister, Health and Welfare, 1963.

LaMarsh was born in Chatham, Ontario but her family moved to Niagara Falls during the Great Depression where her father could practice law.

Due to poor eyesight, she was denied entry in the RCAF Women’s Division but she did join the Royal Canadian Engineers and worked as a translator of Japanese documents for the Allied intelligence in the United States until the end of WWII.

After becoming a lawyer in 1950, she began her political career shortly after, finally winning a Parliamentary seat in 1960.

Like Daniel Dale, former Toronto Star reporter who repeatedly exposed Donald Trump as an inveterate liar, LaMarsh headed a team trying to expose John Diefenbaker as guilty of lying. Diefenbaker successfully fought this and won a short-termed minority government in 1962. When the Liberal Party was returned to power in 1963, PM Pearson appointed her as Minister of National Health and Welfare and Minister of Amateur Sport. In 1965, she was appointed as Secretary of State travelling thousands of kilometres to participate in the local festivities celebrating Canada’s Centennial.

Her political endeavours dealt with the Status of Women in Canada, support of women’s organizations, leading to the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in 1965. Additionally, she was instrumental in revamping the CBC in 1966 and setting up the Canadian Radio-Television Commission.

Retirement from Politics
When LaMarsh retired in 1968, she insisted the reason was not because of her disdain for Pierre Trudeau but because of the glacial pace and inertia of politics. She also was disappointed that her political life ended her personal privacy. She was equally disappointed as to how she was treated as a woman as if she were a second-class person. She did not feel women were treated equally or with the same regard as men in Canadian politics complaining that Parliament was a “men’s club” and that women were held in such low regard they didn’t even have a separate washroom for female Cabinet ministers.

Judy LaMarsh was one of the first female Canadian politicians to openly, bluntly and honestly speak her mind about women in politics for which she was greatly criticized and castigated in the press, particularly in political cartoons.

Retiring to write
After retiring from politics, Lamarsh wrote ‘Bird in Gilded Cage,’ a memoir of her political heyday for which she was much criticized as a gossip and rumour monger. She wrote two subsequent books, ‘A Very Political Lady’ and ‘A Right Honourable Lady,’ variations on the same theme, criticisms of how women were treated in politics. Her final years of public life were spent in radio broadcasting with a number of shows on CBC radio and TVOntario. In 1975, still going strong, Premier Bill Davis named her chair of the Ontario’s Royal Commission on Violence.

LaMarsh taught law at Osgoode Hall in the early 1970s and defended the “Brunswick Four” a group of young lesbians who had been harassed by police and arrested for causing a disturbance at a Toronto tavern. The case is considered a groundbreaking event in Toronto’s gay liberation movement.

She died of cancer in October 1980 and her legacy is best summed up in the words of journalist Peter Newman,

“Judy LaMarsh endowed each of her many careers with energy, intellect and
commitment…
to the end, she never gave up her essential gutsy humanity.”

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