Young Canadians file court challenge calling for federal voting age to be lowered

A group of young people from across Canada has filed a court challenge arguing that the federal voting age should be lowered.

A press release issued Tuesday says 13 children and youth from across the country have filed an application at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to challenge the voting age.

The voting age in Canada was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1970.

The group argues that provisions in the Canadian Elections Act that prevent citizens under 18 years of age from voting in federal elections are unconstitutional because they violate sections three and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Youth are our future,” Amelia Penney Crocker, a youth litigant from Halifax. said in the release. “But as it stands, we can’t vote for who gets to shape that future - and particularly in this unprecedented climate crisis, lack of youth voting rights might mean that we don’t have a future at all.”

Section three of the Charter deals with democratic rights. It states that all Canadian citizens have a right to vote in federal and provincial/territorial elections. However, the Charter does list being under the age of 18 as a “direct interference with the right to vote or be a candidate”

Meanwhile, section 15 deals with equality rights, and says everyone is equal before and under the law “without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

The release said children represent nearly one quarter of the country’s population, “yet they remain the only disenfranchised citizens in our society.”

Supporting the court challenge are JFCY and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto.

“Various national child/youth focused charities are supporting the youth litigants, including Children First Canada, UNICEF Canada and the Students Commission of Canada,” the release reads.

In a statement, lawyers at Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) said decision-makers “tend to cite outdated factors when denying young people access to the polls.”

“They are the same factors historically used to deny other groups the right to vote,” the statement reads. “We have seen a continued rise in young people’s efforts to be heard – millions marching on issues that have a direct impact on their lives and the world I which they live, yet they still can’t vote.”

In an email to CTVNews.ca, Emily Chan a staff lawyer with JFCY, said the young people have “not stipulated a specific age at this stage of the proceedings.”

“We note that other jurisdictions have changed the age to 16; and that the Canadian federal parties have set the age of 14 for participation for their party activities,” the email read. “The litigants themselves range from 12 years of age and upwards.”

Chan said if the case is successful, then the government “must justify the age they set based on evidence.”

In the release, the group pointed to Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ecuador and Germany, which have all lowered their voting age to 16.

“As children and youth, we deserve to speak for ourselves on the issues that matter to us and affect our lives, such as climate change and mental health,” Katie Yu, a 15-year-old litigant from Iqaluit, said in the release.

“Our voices should not be ignored, as we know what actions are needed to address these issues and better the world for future generations, and we are already making change in many ways—we’re hoping that gaining the right to vote will be the next step,” Yu continued.

The court filing comes just a week after Sen. Marilou McPhedran introduced Bill S-201 in the Canadian Senate. The bill calls for a referendum to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act, and would see the voting age lowered from 18 to 16.

The first reading of the bill was completed on Nov. 24.