With Election Day less than two weeks away, many are debating on casting a ballot. On the other hand, there are inmates who are serving life sentences and are anxious to vote. Although inmates may not be able to reap all the benefits community members do from voting, many still choose to cast a ballot. Why?
Before Rick Sauve, a member of the Satan’s Choice motorcycle gang, inmates were not always entitled to vote. Sauve was serving a life sentence for murder when he decided to contest the court for his right to vote in elections.
The challenge commenced in 1992 and resulted in all inmates having the right to vote in federal elections in 2004. Initially, the Supreme Court of Canada amended the Elections Act to only allow provincial inmates serving less than two year sentences to vote but then eventually extended the right to all inmates. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that prohibiting inmates from voting would result in disenfranchisement. One may question why an inmate serving a life sentence (25 years in prison) would fight for such a right when they cannot enjoy all the benefits of it.
Why Voting Matters
Despite popular misconceptions, the goal of the justice system is to create law – abiding, functional and contributing members of society. Consequently, depriving inmates of their right to vote prevents them from learning about what’s happening in their community and having a say in what the government is offering them. Voting also aids inmates in having a voice in their current environment including voting for health care legislation that will benefit them. Voting also provides inmates with the opportunity to vote for political candidates that may help benefit their loved ones outside prison walls.
According to Elections Canada, voting among prisoners has increased from 9,000 voters in 2004 to 17,100 voters in 2011. It will be interesting to see what kind of results this election will bring. It has been argued that many inmates develop a social conscience in prison. Sauve explains this when he states:
“Surprisingly, there’s a number that lean towards the Green party, because they’re concerned about the environment. A lot of people develop a social conscience when they’re in prison.”
Sauve is currently on parole and a mentor to his fellow life serving inmates. Sauve encourages inmates to vote despite their hardships including language barriers and trouble spelling names.
Inmates voting ballots are different from regular ballots due to the diversity of communities inmates originate from. Rather than marking a box next to a name, inmates are required to print the name of the candidates they are voting for, which can result in difficulty for some.
As Canadians, we are fortunate enough to live in a country that considers voting a right. Various groups throughout history have fought to have the right to vote. If we don’t like our current government, we have a right to cast a vote and try to change it; a right not given to everyone in the world. Will you be voting in this election?
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Points of Discussion:
1. What did you find most surprising about this piece?