The democratic right to vote is guaranteed to Canadian citizens by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Incarcerated individuals serving sentences of two years or less have the right to vote in federal elections under the Canada Elections Act. Federal inmates were granted the right to vote in federal elections by the Federal Court of Canada in January, 1996. This ruling is being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada by the federal government. The right to vote in provincial elections varies by province. Three Canadian provinces and territories, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Yukon Territory, have elected to completely ban inmate voting. In Alberta, the government has passed amendments to the Elections Act which only allows those inmates serving under 10 days, serving for fine default and those convicted but not sentenced to vote in Alberta elections.
Opponents of inmate voting rights argue that inmates should be denied the right to vote as a matter of principle. Other arguments against inmate voting include perceived political naivete among inmates, the potential for election results to be skewed in favour of candidates with lenient criminal justice platforms, cost and administrative inconvenience.
There is no acceptable reason why any inmate should be denied the right to vote. Denying inmates the right to vote violates the Charter, serves no rehabilitative function and is one more form of discrimination against those who are poor and/or belong to a minority group. Contrary to popular belief, many inmates are politically well-informed. Further, conducting polls in institutions is relatively simple, inexpensive and completely non-threatening to the public. Allowing inmates to exercise their democratic right to vote encourages responsible citizenship, states symbolically that offenders are part of society and reduces the inequity caused by the chance timing of an offender's sentence.