Lawsuit over youth voting rights could help democratic participation

Young Canadians are taking a risk to make the legal case for their right to vote

(Kristen Frier)

(Kristen Frier)

Youth voting is a subject of great concern for many democratic societies. A functioning democracy needs to continuously replenish its electoral base by inducting the next generation of politically literate, socially-conscious citizens into the civic process. 

Great importance is always placed on invigorating young people into participating in elections or volunteering for candidates. After all, young people are the future of Canada, and it would be an absolute shame to see them neglect exercising such a fundamental right as engaging in the democratic system.

How have the participation rates for 18 to 25 year-old Canadians been faring since the 1990s? Not particularly well, but they’ve gotten better recently.

Politicians promising to address issues that affect Canadian youth do not appear to translate into poll turnout once the writ has been dropped. Failure to attract young people puts into question how well our representative democracy is functioning, when many within the population do not feel that any party in Parliament adequately represents them. 

It is a unique problem that calls for special solutions.

One such solution is currently being pursued in the courtrooms of Ontario. A pan-Canadian group of 13 young people aged 12 to 18, aided by the non-profit legal aid organization Justice for Children and Youth, are suing the federal government over what they argue is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Their case stands on the argument that the current minimum voting age of eighteen years “​​violates two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” The plaintiffs’ filed claim says that denying the franchise to younger citizens “perpetuates stereotypical and prejudicial attitudes that young people are less capable and less deserving of participating in Canadian democracy through the voting process.” 

This is a topic that is sure to earn ire from the crowd who insist that we ought to “let kids be kids and keep them out of politics” and claim that this lawsuit is a frivolous endeavor that will be thrown out immediately.

However, this case should be welcomed as a mixed social, political, and legal experiment.  

A school of thought on constitutions is that they are “living documents” that can be amended to reflect the contemporary social and political climate. It is essential that a country’s constitution be able to change with the times to avoid becoming an antiquated social contract that fails in its task of defining the fundamental rights of the citizenry.

“Initially restricted to property-owning men aged 21 and older, voting rights in Canada have been gradually extended to … women, racialized people, Indigenous people, inmates, and citizens who live abroad,” states the plaintiffs’ claim. 

While lowering the minimum voting age is a step in the right direction towards reigniting passion and interest in politics to potential voters, we should remember that this is not an absolute solution.

The state of Canada’s current electoral system certainly is not doing any favours in enticing young voters. Neither are the parties’ appeal efforts for the most part. 

If we want to see greater participation from young people, then a strong foundation of addressing concerns and reforming the political scene to foster a better sense of care from our MPs must be laid out along with this ambitious lawsuit.