Daphne Bramham: Should children have the right to vote?

Opinion: Electoral laws disenfranchise a quarter of Canadian citizens. They are under 18 and there is growing support for lowering the age to at least 16.


If there’s a toddler, preschooler or tween wielding a pencil in the voting booth next to you at Vancouver’s early polls for the October 1 and 8 civic elections, don’t be alarmed.

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It is not openly perpetrated electoral fraud. It’s legit, right down to the special ballots that little ones under 12 will fill out with various election questions that seem a lot more fun than those faced by registered voters 18 and older.


How do you like to spend your time in Vancouver? What would you like to learn more at school? What quality is most important in a good leader? And, what is the most important thing for you in Vancouver?

It will be interesting to see what value children place on kindness, honesty, creativity, and playfulness when it comes to leadership. Sure, it’s a quiz for kids. But it’s funny that experience and qualifications aren’t even on the list.

As for what children consider most important, the options are: parks, swimming pools, community centers; Fire, rescue and police services; Libraries, theaters and local events; Civic gardens and green spaces. Without prejudging the result that will be announced on October 15, before the official polls close, but I bet fun things get more votes than emergency services.

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Coinciding with the actual vote, students in grades 4 to 12 can also vote if their school registers with the city.

Everything is aimed at involving children in the democratic process. But he is also part of a local, national and international movement to lower the voting age. Setting the age is arbitrary at best.

But deciding how low the age should be gets tricky.

The Vancouver City Council unanimously endorsed the age of 16 to vote in last year’s civic election, concurring with the BC Union of Municipalities, the BC Federation of Teachers, the BC Government Employees Union and others.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach listens as he participates in a news conference with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following a caucus meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.
NDP MP Taylor Bachrach listens as he participates in a news conference with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following a caucus meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick /THE CANADIAN PRESS

This week, the House of Commons is expected to vote on Taylor Bachrach’s proposal private member bill – the latest in a series of more than a dozen bills since 2015 to propose allowing anyone over the age of 16 to vote.

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During the second reading of his bill in May, The NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley spoke about peaceful protests by Heiltsuk youth in his drive that resulted in recognition of their fishing rights and two Smithers youth who convinced the town to ban plastic bags.

“Young adults deserve to be involved in decisions about these issues,” Bachrach said.

If passed, the bill would go to the Senate, where Senator Marilou McPhedran almost identical invoice It’s on second reading.

If either bill becomes law, it would eliminate the need for the court challenge filed last November by 13 young people in the Ontario Superior Court, the equivalent of British Columbia’s Supreme Court, which argues that the federal Election Act is unconstitutional and denies the right to vote to nearly a quarter of Canadian citizens.

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They are represented by Justice for Children and Youth, Children First and the David Asper Center for Constitutional Rights.

Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of citizens to vote in federal and provincial/territorial elections and Section 15 states that, regardless of age, everyone is equal before the law.

In addition, they argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Everyone has the right to participate in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”

Canada is a signatory to it, as well as to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires countries to “assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express them freely in all matters affecting the child” according “to the age and maturity of the child”.

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Cambridge law professor David Runciman argues that anyone over the age of six should be able to vote. Only babies, toddlers, and others too young to read would remain disenfranchised.

“In all democratic societies, from ancient Athens to 1970s Britain, there were far more voters under 40 than over 60. That is no longer the case,” Runciman recently wrote in The Guardian. Now that the middle-aged and the elderly are the largest economic and political blocs, it is their interests that predominate.

But that is a temporary argument. The old are not likely to always be the majority.

Demanding that children have the same rights as adults challenges the idea put forward by children’s rights activists since the Industrial Revolution that they deserve protection and, in fact, have special rights, including the right not to be tried or sentenced. as adults.

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And, if we agree that the only impediment to children voting is ability and freedom of coercion are the only impediments to children voting, should adults with dementia or voters in bloc of religious or ethnic communities?

Perhaps voting at age 16 would engage children earlier in the democratic process. But that hasn’t stopped young people from making a substantial difference. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was 11 years old when she began advocating for the right to go to school. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg was 15 years old when she started her weekly protests.

Before going too far down the road of equal rights for all, remedies for youth discontent with democracy might be better remedied by things like the city’s Kids Vote initiative. Or, perhaps better yet, politicians who act more like the kind of adult children can look up to and aspire to become.

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