Perhaps one of the best things about living
in a democracy is that we all have guaranteed political and civil rights, like: freely forming
and expressing our own opinions (even if others don’t agree), being free to worship in your
own way, and the right to protest, if you so choose.
In 1982, our government created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect
our rights. Have you heard of it before? The Charter contains seven sections that define
our rights as Canadians: fundamental rights, democratic rights, mobility rights, legal
rights, equality rights, official language rights and minority language education rights.
Having democratic rights means that every Canadian citizen, 18 years of age and older,
has the right to participate or vote in government elections. And, elections are legally required
to be held at least every five years. The right to vote in Canada has changed so
much over time. In the early days, only wealthy, property or land-owning men could vote, which
means there weren’t many voters, and the system wasn’t very fair or democratic.
Needless to say, women weren’t so happy about this. Starting in the 1870s, they campaigned
for the right to vote. Finally, in 1916, Manitoba became the first province to grant women the
right to vote, and by 1918, women all across the country had the same right as men when
it came to voting in federal elections. Still, things weren’t ideal. Even though
the right to vote was expanded with the 1920 Dominion Elections Act, many people were still
excluded: Canadian citizens of Chinese or Japanese origin
were denied the right to vote; plus, Aboriginal peoples could only vote if they gave up their
treaty rights and registered Indian status; and certain religious groups were not allowed
to vote;. It wasn’t until 1960 when all these restrictions
were finally removed and we achieved real “universal suffrage”.
Recently, there have been steps to ensure voting is accessible and convenient for all
voters, so people with disabilities and those unable to go to their polling station can
still vote. Despite the fact that all Canadian citizens,
18 years of age and older, now have the right to vote and it’s actually easier than ever,
many choose not to vote on election day. In the 2011 federal election, only 61% of eligible
Canadians cast ballots. That’s pretty low. Voter turnout is even lower among young Canadians.
Only 4 out of 10 young people voted in the last election…less than half the population
of young Canadians! We have to remember that there are obligations
that come with our rights. Others before us ensured we all have the right to vote…and
with this right comes the responsibility to cast a ballot and make an informed choice
on election day.