Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Captive Citizens Face Barriers to Voting in Ontario

Many Ontario citizens had barriers to voting in the June 2 general election. In a process known as exemption by process, thousands of prisoners in Ontario experience obstacles to voting. Many will also be explicitly banned from voting in the upcoming municipal elections in October.

Voting rights refer to the rights of full citizenship, including the right to vote. Withdrawal of the right, on the other hand, refers to the procedural roadblocks that prevent prisoners from voting easily.

This is despite a 2002 Supreme Court of Canada affirming that prisoners have the right to vote under Section 3 of the Bill of Rights and Freedoms.

What is crucial has an exaggerated effect on marginalized Canadians. Indigenous, black, disabled and poor people are all put in jail at higher rates, and are more likely to face obstacles to voting due to deprivation of the right through the process.

Prisoners have the right to vote

Scholars use the term civilians to refer to people who have been criminalized and have significant limitations to participate fully in social, economic, and political life.

Issues that affect the general public are also issues that affect prisoners. As critical scholars on public policy and criminology active in community work, we spoke to current and former inmates to hear how their voices were experienced in Ontario’s prisons.

Interviewers have told us that the majority of prisoners return to their communities, so it is important for them to have a democratic voice and interest in the communities to which they return.

A Man In A T-Shirt And Sweatpants Leans Over A Table To Fill Paperwork With A Pen
A prisoner voted in June 2004 at the Montreal Detention Center for the federal election.
CP FOTO / Ryan Remiorz

One recently released federal inmate, and former chairman of the Joyceville Institution Prison Committee, Kevin Belanger, shared his thoughts on why voting is allowed is so essential:

“I think it’s very important for us to vote… it allows guys to feel, even a little bit, part of society, to know that their vote counts. But we really agree with a disadvantage because we are not educated about what is going on. This is because many parties do not realize that if they want our vote, they have to send us something so that we know their positions, because if not, we will guess. ”

Another recently released federal inmate, James Ruston, shared his perspective on political involvement as a prisoner:

“As a long-term prisoner, I have learned to regret the lack of conscious concern for the community in my previous choices. In my exile, I began to believe in the value of social relationships that inspire an inclusive respect for a nurturing and collaborative social contract. Being supported to vote, to make decisions about my community, makes me love that community. ”

Barriers to voting

Interviewers have told us there are a variety of legislative, bureaucratic and procedural issues that serve as roadblocks to voting within Ontario prisons.

Ruston said inadequate communication from correctional facilities could prevent inmates from knowing how to register in the first place. Belanger said that barriers to literacy could also prevent some inmates from accessing this important information.

When an election is called, a prison staff member is appointed as an election liaison. They are responsible for advertising the election and registering voters. Prisoners must complete their ballot papers in the presence of the liaison officer and are not allowed privacy when voting.

The final deadline for registration takes place before the deadline for the general public. Those who do not register on time are barred from voting. This happened to several women in a Kitchener correctional facility in 2018 when their election liaison officer failed to hand out voter registration forms on time.

The Outside Of A Corrective Institution
A group of inmates from the Grand Valley Institution for Women have been denied the ability to vote in the 2018 provincial election due to an administrative error.

Those who do register may still not be allowed to cast their votes. Seventy-seven percent of people in provincial prisons are in custody, meaning they have not been sentenced and may be jailed for a short time. Prisoners who have registered to vote inside prisons but are released before the voting date are not allowed to vote according to the normal process.

In the 2015 Canadian federal election, there was a 50.5 percent turnout of incarcerated voters compared to 68 percent in the public – and 7.5 percent of the votes of incarcerated people were rejected. By comparison, only 0.7 percent were generally rejected in Canada.

Furthermore, if there are any delays and special ballots do not show up to be processed on time, they will not be counted, as happened with 205,000 ballots in the 2022 election.

Pandemic-specific barriers

Pandemic restrictions have led to a number of unique voting barriers. As there are still active COVID-19 cases and restrictions at Ontario prisons, these barriers are ongoing.

Under the Shaping the New Normal Risk Management Framework (available through freedom of information), items may not be shared between prisoners during times of COVID-19 risk.

A Sign For Correctional Facilities In Canada For The Atlantic Institution
A group of inmates in New Brunswick could not vote in the 2019 federal election due to an institutional closure.

In addition, non-profit organizations that support prospective voters are sometimes banned from doing their job inside prisons. This was the case in Saskatchewan for Elizabeth Fry Society staff, who could not go to jail to help inmates register to vote in 2020.

Although Elections Canada states that inmates may not be denied an opportunity to vote, even for security reasons, some inmates at the Atlantic Institution were barred from voting in the 2019 federal election due to an institutional closure.


The majority of people in jail do not have to be there. During parts of the pandemic, the number of people detained in Ontario dropped from 8,113 to 6,405.

But the number of inmates in provincial prisons has increased since then. In addition to reducing the number of people in prison, we need to do better ahead of the fast-approaching municipal elections in October.

Obstacles to voting in municipal elections are even worse. Ontario’s Municipal Election Act explicitly prohibits inmates from voting. This law needs to be amended so that prisoners can vote in October.

We call on various governments to ensure that the relevant electoral agencies effectively manage the vote in prisons. Elections Ontario must ensure that inmates are provided with information about their candidates, registration assistance and facilitation by Election Ontario employees on polling day. Voting is a right; everyone must have fair access to it.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Deskhttps://nationworldnews.com
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
Latest news
Related news