What some Hamilton residents who can't vote say about being shut out of local democracy

Immigrants who don't have Canadian citizenship, people who are incarcerated, and teens under the age of 18 are among those who don't have the right to vote.

'I want to be a member of this community. And I want to participate in the democratic process here'

A woman in a white dress smiles in front of a computer and raises her right hand.
Until Lil Acive became a Canadian citizen this summer, she couldn't vote in Canada. (Submitted by Lil Acive)

Lil Acive has lived in Canada for nine years, but until this summer, she couldn't vote. 

The Hamilton resident, originally from Venezuela, applied for her Canadian citizenship last year and received it only months ago — "just in time for the upcoming municipal elections," she said. 

Until then, she was among those who aren't eligible to vote, a group which includes permanent residents, migrant workers, international students, undocumented people, those under 18 and incarcerated people.

"In my family, election day was always a big thing. Mom and dad instilled on their children that sense of duty towards the act of voting," she said.

"I do believe that having the right to make their voices heard should be added to the list of things permanent residents can count on. Or at least, they should have the right to participate in municipal elections."

A woman smiles in front of a lake and trees.
Lil Acive is excited to vote for the first time in Canada this month. (Submitted by Lil Acive)

With the election just weeks away, Acive says she's looking forward to casting a ballot in Hamilton for the first time. "I feel the same way you would feel when you finally receive that invitation to that party everybody in town is talking about. I'm excited to see my name in the guest list." 

Many others still don't have that chance.

Alexander Peace has been living in Canada since he moved here from England in 2016. He teaches geology classes at McMaster University and says he cares about the safety and happiness of the people of Hamilton.

For now, if he wants to help change things, it won't be through voting. "I consider [voting] a civic duty. So, when I drive around, I see people have got the different candidates' signs out of their houses. And I feel like a casual observer rather than a participant."

Peace received permanent resident status in 2009, after becoming eligible while still in England. He applied for citizenship in August of 2020 and had been hoping to be a citizen by now. He has done everything he needs to do, he says, except take an oath. 

"I don't think there's a single update in 2021... on my application, and that's a very long time to just sort of sit there."

Alexander Peace teaching McMaster students about location geology on the Niagara Escarpment. (Submitted by Alexander Peace)

Peace said issues like the urban boundary and public transportation are topics he cares about, but can't vote on. 

"I want to be a member of this community. And I want to participate in the democratic process here," he said. "It's painful to not be able to participate in the process of choosing the people who have a large claim in those decisions."

Some have lost the right to vote

A municipal election can look different for citizens who had the right to vote but lost it.

A statement to CBC Hamilton from the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project, a group run by people who have spent time in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, says they don't believe the issue of "prisoners voting or not voting is very meaningful, since there is no political tendency that is willing to take even the smallest step towards abolishing prison," the group says. 

"Prisoners are extremely engaged and actively contest their inhuman conditions every day, even if it doesn't take the shape of voting... If we are talking about rights that prisoners are actually fighting for, there's ending [prison] lockdowns, access to healthy food, speedy trials, access to books, access to the outdoors, an end to overcrowding, and adequate medical treatment. But not voting."

'I think it would be fair'

For international student Julian Orlando, Canadian politics are not always front of mind. 

"Right now, I'm more involved in Colombian politics than I am here in Hamilton," said the Mohawk College student.

However, if he could vote, he would, he said.

"As someone that has an interest in staying here and someone that is an active person who is contributing to the society here in Hamilton, I think it would be fair for us to somehow vote."

Orlando said he understands why international students don't have a right to vote, as he says some don't have plans to stay in Canada. 

Many do stay, however.

A 2021 report from the Canadian Bureau of International Education found that 72.6 per cent of international students plan to work in Canada after finishing their studies and 59.4 per cent plan to apply for permanent resident status. 

Policies affect them directly, including Orlando, who said the issue of affordable housing has been a critical one in his short time in Hamilton.

"The housing market is crazy right now, everything's so expensive. And I think it's very exclusive. [If] a real estate agent knows that you're a student, they are not going to rent to you," he said. 

"I had a very hard time finding housing, which is something basic."

He said even though he agrees with international students not being able to vote, he thinks they should at least have a say in what goes on in the city. 

"We spend a lot of money and [we're] working 20 hours a week, sometimes maybe more, just to get money to survive."

For more of CBC Hamilton's election coverage:


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.


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