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Voting age: How low should it go?

In Canada's early days, only a select group of privileged men could vote. Now it's a fundamental right for all Canadians over 18. Women, Asians, native people and prisoners were among those who gained the right to vote in Canadian elections over the past century — often amid controversy. CBC Archives explores the evolution of voting rights in Canada.

The voting age is now 18. Should it be even lower? With the 1970s' youth rights movement in full swing, this Take 30 clip looks at whether children should be allowed to vote. A nine-year-old girl says she would vote if she could, noting that she correctly predicted Trudeau would win the last election. Several interviewees argue that the question of maturity is irrelevant, since many adults don't vote maturely. "My mother voted for Trudeau because she thought he was cute," says one young woman. 
• The "youth rights movement" began in the 1970s. Influential books like Escape from Childhood by John Holt (1974) and Birthrights by Richard Farson (1974) portrayed children as whole individuals with the same rights and responsibilities as adults. Holt believed that the common reasons for denying children voting rights -- they're too irresponsible, uninformed, immature and dependent to make responsible choices about voting -- were the exact same false arguments people used to make for denying women and blacks (in the United States) the vote.

• The youth rights movement's ideas on allowing children to vote did not have widespread appeal. The Canadian voting age remains at 18 to this date (2004).

• During the early 1990s, a well-publicized movement to drop the voting age down to 16 began. This was supported by several politicians, including Sheila Copps, who believed that many 16-year-olds were well informed and responsible enough to vote. In a 1991 CBC Radio interview, she also noted that many 16 year olds pay taxes from their part-time jobs, and therefore deserve to have more of a say in government.

• The Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor summed up one of the main arguments for lowering the voting age in a 2003 article: "At 16, teens are considered mature enough to drive, marry and work -- so why not vote?" Others countered that 16 is simply too young and immature to make important voting decisions.

• Interestingly, not all teens between 16 and 18 want the voting age to be lowered. In a 1991 episode of CBC's Cross Country Checkup, the guests were two bright teens on opposing sides of the issue. The teen opposed to lowering the voting age said it was simply too young -- she believed 16 was even too young to drive, and she felt that a lot of maturing occurs between the ages of 16 and 18.

• In 2001, two Edmonton teens named Eryn Fitzgerald and Christine Jairamsingh (both under 18 at the time) went to provincial court to try to get the voting age lowered to 16. They lost their case in 2002, appealed, and lost their appeal at the Alberta Court of Appeal in May 2004. In a 2004 Edmonton Journal article, Fitzgerald said, "Society is eventually going to have to respond to the issue. In my mind, it's inevitable the voting age will be lowered. Maybe not in my lifetime, but it's inevitable.

• There are a number of countries around the world where the voting age is less than 18. In Brazil, the minimum voting age is 16 -- voting is voluntary until you turn 18, and then it is compulsory. In Croatia, everyone gets the vote at 18, but if you are 16 and are employed full-time, you also have the right to vote. Iran has the lowest voting age at 15.
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Feb. 7, 1975
Guest(s): Jill Mason, Pat McKay, Howard Pope, Annabel Vaughan
Reporter: Rita Deverell
Duration: 6:02

Last updated: April 17, 2013

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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