A student drops a filled out ballot into an Elections Canada box in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

A student drops a filled out ballot into an Elections Canada box in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Election 2021: Voting rights did not always extend to all Canadians

Women, Indigenous people, religious minorities and others have been denied the vote in past years

On Sept. 20, Canadians will go to the polls to elect the next federal government.

While voting today is open to all who are citizens over the age of 18, this has not always been the case. Restrictions have been imposed on certain groups of Canadian citizens in past federal elections.

When Canada was formed in 1867, voting was limited to men 21 and older who were British subjects by birth or naturalized citizens and who owned property.

Property ownership remained in place until 1920. This meant voters were required to own property of a certain value or to pay rent or to make a certain annual income.

Canada did not grant all women the right to vote in federal elections until 1918. However, a temporary measure in 1917 allowed female members of the military and female relatives of soldiers the right to vote.

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The Dominion Elections Act of 1920 disqualified Indigenous people living on reserves from voting. Earlier, Indigenous people on and off reserves were not permitted to vote unless they gave up their status rights. In 1934, Inuit were specifically excluded from voting. Inuit did not get the right to vote until 1950, and it was not until 1960 that Indigenous people were able to vote without having to give up their status rights.

While regulations kept Indigenous and Inuit people from voting, Metis were not restricted. Pierre Delorme, a Metis politician and activist was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1871 and 1878. Metis leader Louis Riel was elected to the House of Commons three times in the 1870s, representing the riding of Provencher.

The Dominion Elections Act also excluded Asian Canadians in British Columbia from voting in federal elections. This ban remained in place until 1948.

Additional voting restrictions were imposed during wartime.

During the First World War, Canadians who had been born in an enemy nation or whose primary language was that of an enemy country were not permitted to vote. This was in place until 1922.

Conscientious objectors were not permitted to vote in 1917 and again from 1938 to 1955.

During wartime, Mennonites, Hutterites and Doukhobors were not allowed to vote, since their religious faith is opposed to military service. These bans were in place from 1917 to 1920. Doukhobors were prohibited from voting in federal elections from 1934 to 1955.

Further restrictions to voting have also been lifted.

In 1993, those with mental disabilities were given the right to vote. From 1898 until 1993, they had not been permitted to vote. Prisoners received the right to vote in 2002. They had been disqualified from voting since 1898. Canadians living abroad were also given the right to vote in 1993.

Today, the only Canadian unable to vote is the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.

While restrictions on voting have been loosened over the years, this has not translated into a greater voter turnout.

In the 2019 federal election, 67 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. In 2006, the figure was just 58.8 per cent.

By comparison, elections in 1972, 1979 and 1984 all had more than 75 per cent voter turnout. The 1958 election saw 79.4 per cent voter turnout and the 1962 election saw 79 per cent voter turnout.

John Arendt is editor of the Summerland Review.

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