A group of Canadian children and youth are trying to make history, waiting for the possibility that they and their peers will be able to vote in the upcoming federal elections.
The 13 youths are between 12 and 18 years old and hail from across the country, including several from Nova Scotia and as far away as Nunavut.
The group has filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to challenge the voting age in Canada. They argue that the Canadian Elections Act, which prevents citizens under the age of 18 from voting in federal elections, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that all Canadians have the right to vote.
Seventeen-year-old Diego Christiensen-Barker is from Campbell River, BC, and is one of the group’s litigants. He became involved in politics several years ago with the BC Youth Council and Vote16 BC.
“It feels like a Canadian and democratic thing,” he said. “Because as it is now, there are a lot of people in this country and they do not have the right to vote even if it is not restricted by the constitution. And fighting to ensure they have a voice seems to me like defending Canadian values. “
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The group connected through Children First Canada, a national charity that serves as a voice for the nation’s children and youth.
The legal challenge is supported by Justice for Children and Youth and other groups focused on children and youth, including UNICEF.
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Emily Chan, part of the legal advisor, believes that it is important for young people to make their voices heard.
“I think the massive protests on climate change around the world are an example of how well connected young people are on various issues,” he said.
Barker says young people should have a vote in elections because issues at the federal level affect him and his peers, such as growing concerns about climate change.
“I don’t know what the world will be like when I reach the end of my life. I think that with the increasing pressure of climate change, I think that could also increase the chances of major wars happening. I think there can be many devastating effects that scare me, and the fact that I don’t even know if I can have children due to the state of the world, ”he said.
In 2007, Austria lowered its voting age to 16. Since then, studies have shown that teen voters have higher turnout rates compared to the 18-21-year-old cohort.
“This is because before the age of 18, you are usually in a more stable environment at home, you have a part-time job. But then when you turn 18, maybe you will be working full time. Maybe you go to college and work full time, ”Barker said.
During the 2021 federal elections, 800,000 votes were cast in schools across the country as a mock vote election, engaging children in the electoral process. Votes were cast on every parade in the nation.
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Barker says he understands how some may feel apprehensive at the prospect of allowing young people to vote. Some have argued that most young people would vote left. However, the voting in the mock elections was very diverse.
“It shows that overall it is fairly uniform that the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives got between 24 and 28 percent of the popular vote. I think it’s interesting how the voting went, ”Barker said.
Other countries that have lowered their voting age to 16 include Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, Scotland and Wales.
Chan says numerous documents still need to be submitted before the actual court date is set.
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