Should Non-Citizen Residents be Allowed to Vote in Canada?

AuthorTuttle, Myrna El Fakhry

Canadians voted federally in September, and Albertans head back to the polls in October for municipal elections. But who has the right to vote in these elections?

The right to vote is the foundation of democracy, and democracy cannot be established without it. Voting allows individuals to affect government decisions. It can take place on a national, regional or local level, where individual participation in government is equally important.

The right to vote has been acknowledged as a fundamental human right. However, millions of individuals around the world do not enjoy this right. This group includes non-citizens, disabled people, minorities, those who commit crimes, and those discriminated against based on gender, race and ethnicity.

Only Canadian citizens can vote

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein. Section 3 of the Canada Elections Act states:

Every person who is a Canadian citizen and who on polling day is 18 years of age or older is qualified as an elector. Section 16 of the Election Act in Alberta defines an "elector" as a Canadian citizen who is "18 years of age or older and is ordinarily resident in Alberta." In addition, for municipal and education board of trustees elections, section 47 of Alberta's Local Authorities Election Act says a person is eligible to vote if they are at least 18 years, are a Canadian citizen, and reside in Alberta with their place of residence being the local jurisdiction on election day. (See LawNow's "A Primer on Municipal Law in Alberta" article for more information on the powers of municipal governments.)

It is clear from these sections that only Canadian citizens have the right to vote. The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed this in its 2003 decision in Figueroa v Canada (Attorney General). The Court stated that "the purpose of section 3 is to protect the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process".

Non-citizen residents cannot vote

"Non-citizen residents" can include different groups such as permanent residents, refugees and skilled workers.

In Rheaume v Ontario (Attorney-General), the Court mentioned that:

Non-citizens are a group lacking in political power and as such vulnerable to having their interests overlooked and their rights to equal concern and respect violated. They are among...

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