Canada election ID requirements: vulnerable get help from advocates

Organizations across Canada are advocating on behalf of those in need to help them have their say in the federal election.

Getting polls, providing proper ID, all barriers to voting for at-risk people

Downtown Eastside resident Lora Corbett is hoping to vote on October 19, despite having had her wallet and all her ID stolen twice. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Lora Corbett would like to vote. But like many people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, getting to the polls is no easy task for her.

"I've had my wallet stolen about two times this year, and it's been really hard for me to vote because I have no ID and I have no proper stuff that will prove where I live," she said.

Corbett was homeless, living from shelter to shelter, until last May when she moved into housing at Union Gospel Mission. It's because of that connection that she's more likely to be able to vote on Monday. 

UGM is one of many organizations across the country that's helping people like Corbett do what comes easily to many Canadians — obtain a ballot and vote for the party they believe will best represent them.

Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Jeremy Hunka says the organization is helping its residents and clients navigate the electoral process. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

"Downtown Eastside voters are some of the most vulnerable in the country," said UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka. 

"At election time, even though they may have the most at stake, they really face more barriers than the average person towards voting."

People who are poor and lack education are consistently less likely to vote, according to a 2012 study from Statistics Canada

Navigating new ID requirements

The widely-disputed Fair Elections Act, which was challenged in court, has made this federal election particularly difficult for those living in poverty because of new identification requirements.

For people without a fixed address, getting a voter information card was difficult enough in past elections. But the additional challenge of having to produce a driver's licence or two pieces of ID is what has prompted organizations to more actively assist their clients to vote.

UGM is providing clients with a confirmation of address letter — a new option for federal voters, which is designed to help people who identify as homeless, according to Elections Canada spokesperson Dorothy Sitek. 

Hunka said UGM also fought to have prescription pill bottles and inhalers count as a form of identification, a first for a federal election.

This year, it's also hosting a polling station, which he said provides a safe and familiar place for people in the Downtown Eastside to vote.

Having a say

Other organizations leapt into action shortly after the election was called, in August. 

"We were worried that people would arrive at polling stations and not have the documents they needed to vote," said Maureen Adams, the director of advocacy and communications at Toronto's YWCA. 

Adams gathered all of the YWCA's 250 staff to study the new identification requirements so they could better help the women who use their services.

The organization also consulted with the women it serves to get a sense of what the issues were that concerned them the most such as affordable housing, childcare and employment. 

Ultimately, according to Hunka at UGM, voting isn't just about casting a ballot — it's about people having a say in the issues that that affect their everyday lives.

"We want people to feel empowered and know that they have a voice," said Hunka. "The main consensus that you'll find here is that they want to get their voice out, they want to feel like they matter."

Lora Corbett said she and her friends on the Downtown Eastside are eager to have their say. 

"I feel if we vote for the right person, maybe they would change the quality of life and jobs and stuff for low-income people," she said. 

"I want to see the Prime Minister do better for us Canadians."


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