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Voters without addresses

The Story

Thomas Trelartin has a "keen interest" in federal politics. And Mickey Tessman takes elections very seriously because he knows his quality of life is directly tied to their results. But until recently, both of these homeless men had difficulty voting. Without a fixed address and valid identification, homeless people who wanted to vote would be turned away. As this 2000 CBC Television clip explains, new legislation has now made it easier for homeless Canadians to vote.

Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now
Broadcast Date: Nov. 27, 2000
Guest(s): Diane Morrison, Dave Rayner, Mickey Tessman, Thomas Trelartin
Reporter: Simon Gardner
Duration: 3:19

Did You know?

• Homeless Canadians weren't explicitly denied the right to vote prior to the 2000 federal election, but they couldn't be placed on the federal voter's list without a fixed mailing address and valid identification. This regulation effectively barred them from voting in federal elections.

• In 2000, the federal requirements changed. A homeless person can now register under a homeless shelter's address to be eligible to vote, as long as the shelter has provided food or lodging to that person recently. The voter still has to show identification with a name and a signature. But if they have no identification, an employee of the shelter or another voter registered in the same district can "vouch for the person" by verifying that he or she is a resident.

• This change had the potential to affect an estimated 200,000 homeless Canadians.
• Shelter administrators were heavily involved in the process of letting the homeless know how they could vote, and helping them figure out the process.
• Advocates for the homeless across Canada were quite pleased with the new regulations. "It's a recognition of one of the fundamental rights we have as citizens," said Allyson Hewitt, executive director of Community Information Toronto, quoted in a 2000 Ottawa Citizen article.

• Some advocates for the homeless, however, said it was merely symbolic. "As a symbolic act, I think it's a very positive thing," said Toronto professor Ernie Lightman in a 2000 Canadian Press article. "But when you're giving somebody something that's their right, it's hard for me to stand up and applaud." Lightman added that it's likely many homeless people don't even want to vote: "It would be legitimating a system that has screwed you to the walls over and over again, so why would you bother?"

• In 2000, there was some speculation over whether the homeless would be more inclined to vote for the NDP, which tends to focus on homeless issues. In a 2000 Catholic New Times article, one Alberta shelter worker said that of all the homeless people she spoke to who were going to vote, most said they would be voting NDP. A 2000 Montreal Mirror article's informal poll of homeless people, however, found their voting plans ranged anywhere from Alliance, to Bloc Québécois, to not voting at all.

• It is difficult to determine exactly how many homeless people voted in 2000 or 2004, as Elections Canada does not break down voter statistics on this category.



Voting in Canada: How a Privilege Became a Right more