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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Imprisoned citizens face barriers to voting in Ontario

Many Ontario citizens faced roadblocks to vote in the June 2 general election. In a process called . is referred to as deprive of franchise by processThousands of captives in Ontario, Ontario, experience barriers to voting. Many will apparently be barred from voting in the upcoming municipal elections to be held in October.

Suffrage refers to the rights of full citizenship, including the right to vote. Eviction, on the other hand, refers to procedural barriers that prevent those imprisoned from being able to vote easily.

This is despite a 2002 Supreme Court decision of Canada, which affirmed that imprisoned people have the right to vote under Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Importantly, denial of suffrage disproportionately affects marginalized Canadians. Indigenous, black, handicapped and poor are all imprisoned at higher rates, and more likely to face barriers to voting due to being denied suffrage by the process.

Prisoners have the right to vote

Scholars use the term citizen to refer to those who are criminals and face significant obstacles to fully participate in social, economic and political life.

Issues affecting the general public are also issues that affect those in jail. As critical public policy and criminology scholars active in community work, we spoke with current and past inmates to hear how they experienced voting in Ontario’s prisons.

Interviewers told us that most people in prison return to their communities, so it is important for them to have a democratic voice and stake in the community they return to.

A prisoner casts his vote for the federal election at the Montreal Detention Center in June 2004.
CP Photo/Ryan Ramiorz

A federally incarcerated man was recently released, and former chairman of the prisoners committee at the Joyceville Institution, Kevin Belanger, shares his thoughts on why being allowed to vote is so important:

“I think it’s very important for us to vote … it allows people to feel that, even a small part of society, to know that their vote matters. But we are actually voting with a loss because we are not educated about what is happening. This is because many parties don’t realize that if they want our vote, they need to send something to us. so that we can know their position, because if not, we’re going to guess.

Another recently released federal prisoner, James Ruston, shared his view of political affiliation as a prisoner:

“As a long-term prisoner, I learned to regret the lack of mindful concern for the community in my past choices. In my exile, I came to believe in the value of social relationships that are a nurturing and inclusive respect for a collaborative social contract. To vote, to be supported to make decisions about my community, to be supported by what I hold dear to that community.”

barriers to voting

Interviewers told us that there are a variety of legislative, bureaucratic and procedural issues that act as barriers to voting inside Ontario prisons.

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

When an election is called, a prison staff member is appointed as the election liaison. They are responsible for advertising the election and registering voters. Those imprisoned must fill out their ballots in the presence of the liaison officer, and are not allowed secrecy at the time of voting.

The registration deadline is before the deadline for the general public. Those who do not register on time are barred from voting. This happened to several women at the Kitchener Correctional Institute in 2018, when their election liaison officers failed to deliver voter registration forms on time.

Outside A Correctional Institution
A group of prisoners from the Grand Valley Institution for Women were denied the ability to vote in the 2018 provincial election due to an administrative error.
Canadian Press / Geoff Robbins

Those who register still won’t be able to cast their vote. Seventy percent of the people in provincial prisons are in remand, meaning they have not been sentenced and can be imprisoned for short periods. Prisoners who have registered to vote inside prisons but have been released before the date of voting are not allowed to vote by the regular process.

In the 2015 Canadian federal election, 50.5 percent of jailed voters turned out, compared to 68 percent—and 7.5 percent of those in prison were rejected. By comparison, only 0.7 percent were rejected overall in Canada.

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

pandemic-specific constraints

Several unique franchise barriers have arisen as a result of the pandemic restrictions. Because there are still active COVID-19 cases and restrictions in Ontario’s prisons, these blockades continue.

Under Shaping the New Normal Risk Management Framework (available via Freedom of Information), items should not be shared between people imprisoned in times of COVID-19 risk.

Canada Correctional Facilities Sign For The Atlantic Institute
A group of imprisoned people in New Brunswick were unable to vote in the 2019 federal election due to an institutional lockdown.
Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughn

In addition, nonprofits that support potential voters are sometimes barred from doing their jobs inside prisons. Such was the case in Saskatchewan for employees of the Elizabeth Fry Society, who were unable to enter prison to help jailed people register to vote in 2020.

Although Election Canada states that prisoners cannot be denied the opportunity to vote, even for security reasons, some inmates at the Atlantic Institution have been barred from voting in the 2019 federal election due to institutional lockdowns. was stopped.


Most people in prison don’t need to be there. During parts of the pandemic, the number of people imprisoned in Ontario dropped from 8,113 to 6,405.

But the number of people imprisoned in provincial jails has increased since then. In addition to reducing the number of people in prison, we need to do better ahead of the municipal elections in October.

The odds of voting in municipal elections are even worse. Ontario’s Municipal Election Act explicitly prohibits jailed people from voting. The act should be amended to allow jailed people to vote in October.

We call upon the respective governments to ensure that the election agencies concerned conduct voting effectively in prisons. Elections Ontario must ensure that those imprisoned are provided with information about their candidates, registration assistance and facilitation by Election Ontario staff on Election Day. Voting is a right; Everyone should have equal access to it.

World Nation News Desk
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