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Civil liberties group applauds Supreme Court decision upholding imprisoned citizens’ voting rights

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is applauding the Supreme Court of Canada for striking down an unconstitutional ban on voting rights for prisoners in federal penitentiaries, and calling on the federal government to tread carefully about introducing a replacement.

In a decision released earlier today, the country’s highest court ruled that a section of the Canada Elections Act which prohibited inmates serving sentences of two years or more from voting in elections was unconstitutional.

“Voting rights are a cornerstone of our democracy, and the Supreme Court is telling us that it will not stand idly by while citizens’ voting rights are violated,” said BCCLA President John Dixon. “The court said that denying inmates the vote would be more likely to send messages that undermine respect for the law and democracy than enhance it. We agree with the Court on this.”

The BCCLA intervened in the case, arguing that the ban on voting was unconstitutional for a number of reasons, including:

  • its retroactive effect of adding punishment to people who had already been sentenced
  • its unequal effect on different types of prisoners, which could result in one person on parole for a very serious offence being able to vote, while someone still in jail for simple possession of marijuana could be denied the ballot.
  • the high importance of the right to vote in a democracy
  • the importance of voting rights in re-integrating prisoners into civil society.

“The majority of justices agreed with our approach and we are happy with that,” said John Conroy, who represented the BCCLA pro bono before the Supreme Court. “The law was badly thought out and its effects were arbitrary. It was a bad law and the Court was right to strike it down.”