16-year-olds can join the military — should they be allowed to vote?

Students from Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School in Hamilton debated a hot topic today: should Canada's voting age be lowered to 16?

Canada's acting chief electoral officer says allowing 16-year-olds to vote is 'worth considering'

Hamilton students Mohamed Ali (left) and Marissa Dann (right) are on opposite sides of the debate on whether or not 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in Canada. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

If 16 is old enough to start driving and enlist in the Canadian military, why isn't it old enough to vote? 

Students from Alice Smith's civics class at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School in Hamilton debated that very question Wednesday as part of CBC's Ontario Today noon hour call-in show.

Students Mohamed Ali and Marissa Dann went toe to toe on whether or not Canada's voting age should be lowered to 16 — something Stéphane​ Perrault, Canada's acting chief electoral officer, says is "worth considering."

The students are on the opposite sides of the issue. Dann says she believes lowering the voting age would benefit society and democracy, while Ali is adamant that it's just not a good idea.

I feel like the age of 16 is way too much. If you keep bringing it down, you're never going to be able to stop.- Mohamed Ali, student

"I just think that students are already advocating for change … and I feel as though we should have a larger platform to do so," Dann said.

She pointed to the advocacy of Parkland, Fla. students who have been stepping up and speaking out on gun laws in the wake of February's deadly school shooting.

"I want to be able to have my say and see the changes I want to see," she said.

But Ali, a student who is still under the voting age himself, believes making a move toward a 16-year-old voters won't help the democratic process.

"I feel like the age of 16 is way too much," he said. "If you keep bringing it down, you're never going to be able to stop."

Daniel Hart is a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, and the co-author of a new book called Renewing Democracy in Young America. He's also on the advisory board of Vote 16 USA, an advocacy group in the U.S. involved in lowering the voting age.

Ontarians go to the polls to vote in the provincial election on June 7. (CBC Archives)

He says that research suggests the adolescent brain isn't as mature as a 25-year-old's — but that's largely in peer contexts, and when it comes to restraining impulsive behaviour in the presence of tense emotions.

"This can explain why teenagers do crazy, silly things when they're around their friends," he said. "But that's not what happens with a voting decision … they're making this decision in privacy."

He added that while the "immaturity" of adolescent brains is relevant, there is an important distinction to be made between these types of behaviours.

Other countries, such as Scotland and Austria, have lowered their minimum voting age to 16. British Columbia is now looking at the issue provincially, with a legislative move underway to allow younger voters.

Stéphane​ Perrault, acting chief electoral officer, said the issue has not been extensively debated in Parliament. While 18 is widely considered the "age of majority" in Canada, Canadians are granted other rights at age 16, such as the right to drive a vehicle.

But Ali pointed out that at the same time, the argument isn't being made to abolish the youth criminal justice act, and sentence 16-year-olds as adults.

"It doesn't seem so good in those cases," he said.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

With files from Ontario Today

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