Courting the Prison Vote
The Supreme Court of Canada has abolished the law (see: http://www.gc.ca/wire/2002/11/011102_e.html) that prevented federal prisoners from voting in federal elections. The details at elections Canada show that this only affects those prisoners who are serving less than two years in a federal penitentiary (see: http://www.elections.ca/content.asp?section=gen&document=ec90545&dir=bkg&lang=e&textonly=false), but still this seems like a step in the wrong direction.
Prison is primarily intended as a place of punishment. While this may or may not be the best way to go about handling crime and criminals, right now it is what we have. Part of the punishment for committing a crime is that you lose a number of your rights as a free citizen as it has been shown that you are not a responsible enough person to properly use those rights. It seems to me that if someone gets put in prison, they’ve already shown they do not know how to participate in our society, so why should we give them a voice into how our society is governed?
Worse, this creates a segment of the population that likely has similar interests in seeing lax enforcement of our laws and legislations, or in hampering the ability of law-abiding citizens to catch and deter criminal behaviour. It could even be thought of giving a disproportionate voice to those people for the simple reason that they have little in common with the rest of society while they are incarcerated. Their food and shelter is taken care of, they do not have to work for it, and have considerable amounts of free time to write letters to their MPs.
Does not allowing a prisoner to vote disenfranchise them and force them to live under a government they may not have elected? Absolutely – but this is part of the penalty for violating our laws in the first place. If a person wants to vote, then really all they need to do is stay out of jail, which isn’t that hard a task. Millions of us do it every day.
Change the Way you Vote
The Law Commission of Canada is looking for Canadian opinions on electoral reform (see: http://www.lcc.gc.ca/en/ress/news/nr20021026.asp). In a country where the minority of the popular vote leads to a majority in government, electoral reform seems like a much-needed thing. Electoral reform might also serve to ensure that no matter whom you vote for, your vote is not simply ignored should another candidate have one extra supporter. The site provides lots of background information, as well as ways that you can participate to try to find a way of running elections that might be better off (see: http://www.lcc.gc.ca/en/themes/gr/er/er_main.asp).
Many of the election methods require a bit more involvement from the voter, in that you rank all the candidates present and then the top total candidate will receive the win. However there are a number of systems that can be looked at. Getting involved now simply means you’ll have a better understanding should anything come to pass.
Public Safety Act: A Kinder, Gentler Bill C-42?
The Public Safety Act has been introduced in the House of Commons (see: http://www.tc.gc.ca/mediaroom/releases/nat/2002/02_gc004e.htm) as a replacement for Bill C-42. For those of you that do not remember, Bill C-42 was our government’s knee-jerk reaction to the actions of September 11, 2001. In it, the military was given such powers as being able to declare any area a controlled access area and arrest anybody within, as well as to intercept or track electronic communications with very few limits placed on them.
Apparently cooler heads have prevailed and it seems like some of the most objectionable parts of Bill C-42 have been removed or given strict limits on how and when they can be used.
So if, like me, you wrote to your MP when this first came up, we can feel good in knowing that our letters actually do have some effect.
A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.