The question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote is one that has been debated by legal experts, government officials, and citizens for decades. In Canada, this debate has taken on a unique significance, as the issue is closely tied to our values of democracy and human rights. In this article, we will explore the history of prisoner voting rights in Canada, the current laws and court rulings surrounding this issue, arguments for and against allowing prisoners to vote, the impact of denying prisoners the right to vote, and potential changes to Canadian laws and policies regarding prisoner voting rights. We will also examine the role of rehabilitation in determining voting eligibility for prisoners, public opinion on this issue, and the future of democracy and inclusion for incarcerated Canadians.
The History of Prisoner Voting Rights in Canada
Prisoner voting rights have been a contentious issue in Canada since the country’s founding. In the early years of Confederation, prisoners were generally allowed to vote, with the exception of those serving sentences for specific crimes such as treason and sedition. However, throughout the 20th century, there was a trend of limiting the voting rights of prisoners. In 1960, the Canada Elections Act was amended to exclude those serving sentences of two years or more from voting. This restriction was later challenged in court, but the Supreme Court of Canada upheld it in the 1982 case of Sauvé vs. Canada.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, there have been ongoing debates and legal challenges regarding prisoner voting rights in Canada. In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of Vaid, which argued that the blanket ban on prisoner voting was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the ban was indeed unconstitutional, but allowed Parliament to impose reasonable limits on prisoner voting rights. In response, the Canadian government passed the Elections Modernization Act in 2018, which restored voting rights to most prisoners serving sentences of less than two years. However, those serving longer sentences are still excluded from voting, and the issue remains a topic of debate and controversy in Canadian politics.
The Current Laws Surrounding Prisoner Voting Rights
Today, prisoners in Canada are generally not allowed to vote while incarcerated. The Canada Elections Act stipulates that any person serving a prison sentence of two years or more is ineligible to vote. However, once a prisoner is released, their voting rights are automatically reinstated and they are free to participate in elections. In some cases, prisoners serving sentences of less than two years are also allowed to vote, depending on the laws and regulations of the particular province or territory in which they are incarcerated.
There has been ongoing debate and controversy surrounding prisoner voting rights in Canada. Some argue that denying prisoners the right to vote is a violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms, while others believe that it is a necessary consequence of their criminal actions. In recent years, there have been several court cases challenging the constitutionality of the current laws, with some arguing that they disproportionately affect certain marginalized groups, such as Indigenous peoples and those with lower socio-economic status.
Internationally, the laws surrounding prisoner voting rights vary widely. In some countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, all prisoners are allowed to vote, while in others, such as the United States, only some prisoners are eligible depending on the state in which they are incarcerated. The issue of prisoner voting rights is likely to continue to be a topic of debate and discussion in Canada and around the world.
Court Rulings on Prisoner Voting Rights in Canada
Over the years, there have been numerous court challenges to the restrictions on prisoner voting rights in Canada. In the 1993 case of Haig vs. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the disenfranchisement of prisoners serving sentences of less than five years was unconstitutional. However, this ruling was later overturned by the same court in the 2002 case of Hape vs. Canada, in which it was held that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not guarantee the right to vote to all Canadians in all circumstances.
Since the Hape ruling, there have been several other court challenges to the restrictions on prisoner voting rights in Canada. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of Sauvé v. Canada, in which it was argued that the blanket ban on prisoner voting rights was unconstitutional. The court ultimately ruled in favor of Sauvé, stating that the ban was a violation of section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to vote to all Canadian citizens. However, the ruling did not apply to all prisoners, as it only struck down the ban for those serving sentences of less than two years.
Arguments For and Against Allowing Prisoners to Vote
Those who support prisoner voting rights argue that the right to vote is a fundamental aspect of democracy, and that denying this right to prisoners is a violation of their human rights. Supporters also point out that allowing prisoners to vote can help to promote rehabilitation and reintegration into society, as well as reducing the risk of recidivism. On the other hand, opponents of prisoner voting rights argue that prisoners have broken the social contract and should not be allowed to participate in the democratic process until they have completed their sentences. Some also argue that allowing prisoners to vote could compromise the integrity of the electoral process, as prisoners may be more susceptible to coercion or manipulation than the general population.
Another argument in favor of allowing prisoners to vote is that it can help to reduce the stigma and marginalization that often accompanies a criminal record. By allowing prisoners to participate in the democratic process, they are being recognized as members of society with a stake in its future. This recognition can help to promote a sense of belonging and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
However, opponents of prisoner voting rights also argue that allowing prisoners to vote could be seen as rewarding criminal behavior. They argue that the loss of voting rights is a legitimate consequence of committing a crime, and that restoring these rights before a prisoner has completed their sentence undermines the justice system. Additionally, opponents argue that prisoners who have committed serious crimes, such as murder or terrorism, should not be allowed to vote as a matter of principle.
The Impact of Denying Prisoners the Right to Vote
The denial of voting rights to prisoners has a number of significant consequences. For one, it reinforces the stigma and exclusion faced by former prisoners when they re-enter society. It also undermines the democratic principles of inclusion and equality, as it suggests that some Canadians are not deserving of the same rights and privileges as others. Furthermore, denying prisoners the right to vote can perpetuate cycles of poverty and crime, as it makes it less likely that they will be able to fully participate in the democratic process and have their voices heard.
Another consequence of denying prisoners the right to vote is that it can lead to a lack of representation for certain communities. Many prisoners come from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds, and their voices and perspectives are often not heard in mainstream politics. By denying them the right to vote, we are effectively silencing these communities and perpetuating systemic inequalities.
Additionally, denying prisoners the right to vote can have a negative impact on their mental health and well-being. Voting is a fundamental right and a way for individuals to feel connected to their communities and society as a whole. By taking away this right, prisoners may feel further isolated and disconnected from the world outside of prison walls, which can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and ability to reintegrate into society upon release.
Comparing Canadian Policies on Prisoner Voting Rights to Other Countries
Canada’s policies on prisoner voting rights are unique in the world, as few other countries have such strict restrictions on this issue. In many European nations, for example, prisoners are allowed to vote regardless of the length of their sentence. In the United States, on the other hand, laws governing prisoner voting rights vary from state to state, with some allowing all prisoners to vote and others disenfranchising them permanently.
However, there are some countries that have even stricter policies than Canada. In Australia, for instance, prisoners serving a sentence of three years or more are not allowed to vote. Similarly, in New Zealand, prisoners serving a sentence of more than three years are disenfranchised. In contrast, some countries like Sweden and Finland have no restrictions on prisoner voting rights, allowing all prisoners to vote regardless of their sentence length or crime committed.
Public Opinion on Prisoner Voting Rights in Canada
Public opinion on the issue of prisoner voting rights is divided. According to a 2018 poll by Angus Reid, 56% of Canadians believe that prisoners should be allowed to vote, while 44% believe they should not. Those who support prisoner voting rights tend to be younger, more educated, and more politically liberal than those who oppose them.
However, it is important to note that the issue of prisoner voting rights is not just a matter of public opinion. It is also a matter of human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that denying prisoners the right to vote is a violation of their human rights. Canada is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes the right to vote for all citizens, including those in prison. Therefore, the debate on prisoner voting rights in Canada is not just about public opinion, but also about upholding international human rights standards.
The Role of Rehabilitation in Determining Voting Eligibility for Prisoners
Some argue that rehabilitation should be taken into account when determining the voting eligibility of prisoners. Those who have demonstrated a commitment to reforming their lives and contributing positively to society could be given the right to vote as a means of promoting their reintegration. This would also be in line with the principles of restorative justice, which emphasize the importance of repairing harm and restoring relationships between victims, offenders, and society as a whole.
However, others argue that allowing prisoners to vote, regardless of their rehabilitation progress, undermines the justice system and sends the wrong message to victims and their families. They believe that the right to vote is a privilege that should only be granted to those who have not violated the law and have shown respect for society’s rules and norms.
Advocacy Groups Fighting for Prisoner Voting Rights in Canada
There are several advocacy groups active in Canada that are fighting for the voting rights of prisoners. The John Howard Society, for example, has been a vocal advocate for the rights of prisoners since its inception in 1929. Other groups, such as the National Association of Women and the Law and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have also been involved in legal challenges and public campaigns aimed at promoting prisoner voting rights.
One of the main arguments put forward by these advocacy groups is that denying prisoners the right to vote is a violation of their human rights. They argue that prisoners are still citizens and members of society, and therefore should have a say in the democratic process. Additionally, they point out that denying prisoners the right to vote can have negative consequences for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Despite the efforts of these advocacy groups, however, the issue of prisoner voting rights remains controversial in Canada. Some argue that prisoners have forfeited their right to vote by committing crimes, and that allowing them to vote would be an insult to their victims. Others argue that allowing prisoners to vote could lead to a distortion of the democratic process, as prisoners may vote in ways that are not in the best interests of society as a whole.
Potential Changes to Canadian Laws Regarding Prisoner Voting Rights
The issue of prisoner voting rights is likely to continue to be a topic of debate and discussion in Canada in the years to come. In 2019, the federal government introduced legislation aimed at restoring the right to vote to some prisoners who had been disenfranchised by the existing laws. However, this legislation did not go as far as many advocates had hoped, and further changes may be necessary to fully address the issue of prisoner voting rights in Canada.
One of the main arguments in favor of restoring prisoner voting rights is that it is a fundamental human right. Many advocates argue that denying prisoners the right to vote is a violation of their basic rights and freedoms, and that it is important to ensure that all citizens have a say in the democratic process, regardless of their circumstances.
On the other hand, opponents of prisoner voting rights argue that prisoners have forfeited their right to participate in the democratic process by committing crimes. They argue that allowing prisoners to vote could be seen as rewarding criminal behavior, and that it could undermine the integrity of the electoral system.
The Future of Democracy and Inclusion for Incarcerated Canadians
The issue of prisoner voting rights touches on some of the most fundamental values of Canadian society, including democracy, human rights, and social justice. As we continue to grapple with this complex and multifaceted issue, it is essential that we remain committed to promoting inclusion and equality for all Canadians, including those who are incarcerated. By working to ensure that all Canadians are able to fully participate in the democratic process, we can build a more just and equitable society for all.