Anita Law, 1st-time voter at age 42, relishes Ontario election

A Renfrew, Ont., woman is spreading the message that a vote shouldn't be taken for granted, after waiting 42 years to be able to cast her first ballot. In times of declining voter turnout, Anita Law says it's a "big deal" that she'll be able to vote in Ontario's June 12 election.

Residency rules kept U.K.-born, Cayman Islands-raised woman from voting until now

Renfrew woman Anita Law will be able to vote this year for the first time in decades. 2:08

Many Canadians wait 18 or 19 years for the ability to vote.

Anita Law has lived in England, the Cayman Islands, Scotland, Sudbury and now Renfrew, Ont. (CBC)
Take that span of time, double it, tack on a few more years for good measure and you have the story of Anita Law.

The 42-year-old from Renfrew, Ont., about an hour northwest of Ottawa, has been unable to vote in every election she has come across until this Ontario provincial campaign.

"I was born in England and when I was two years old my parents... decided to up and leave with a five-year-old and a two-year-old and travel to the Cayman Islands," she said.

"I grew up there… got Caymanian citizenship when I was 10 years old, but due to a quirk in the immigration system at the time, my brother and parents were allowed to vote but I wasn't.

"I was at university in the U.K. and when the elections [in 1997] came along… I was really hoping to be able to vote, but I didn't meet the residency requirements because I didn't have a permanent address in the U.K."

Law said she got her Canadian citizenship two years ago and this is the first time she'll be able to cast a ballot.

"It's been an emotional roller-coaster. Every time there's an election called, [I think], 'Well I can't vote in this one, can't participate this time,'" she said.

"When the election was called, I let out a little 'Yay!'" 

Wonders how others take voting for granted

Law's breakthrough comes at a time when Elections Ontario and other groups are working to turn around a trend that's seen voter turnout steadily decline since 1990.

Changes in Ontario voter turnout

  • 1995: 63 per cent of eligible voters
  • 1999: 58.3 per cent
  • 2003: 56.8 per cent
  • 2007: 52.1 per cent
  • 2011: 48.2 per cent

(Elections Ontario)

She said she thinks people tend to not think about what it would be like to not be able to vote.

"I think that people can become really complacent when all these amazing gifts are given to you on a plate.

"I work at a retirement residence and there's a lady there who's 100 years old. I think sometimes it's worth being reminded that when she was born, she as a woman wasn't allowed to vote. That's not that long ago." 

Doug Shouldice is a returning officer for Elections Ontario in Ottawa and a former teacher.

He said he always used to bring his students to the polls on election day and worked it into the curriculum as a way of reaching the important young voter demographic.

"Not only is it important to get them involved but then they'll get their parents involved too, that's certainly beneficial to our whole society," he said.

As for Law, she said her life during the campaign isn't very different — as she always followed the headlines closely — but June 12 will be a different animal.

"I'm sure it will be an anticlimax in some sense," she said.

"But at the same time when you've been denied that ability to take part and you're living in a free country and all those things… to suddenly be allowed to have a say is a big deal, you know?"

About the Author

Andrew Foote

CBC Reporter

Andrew Foote has been with the CBC since February 2013 after graduating from Carleton University. He can be reached at andrew.foote@cbc.ca or @amkfoote on Twitter.