Case study cards

Case Study 1: Japanese Canadians

Black and white photograph of four young Japanese women standing in front of an internment camp, with their hands on one another's shoulders. Mountains are in the background.
Source: CWM 20150279-001_p21, George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum

Japanese Canadians have lived in Canada since the 1870s. Most of them lived in British Columbia, where they worked as fishers, farmers and business owners. Racism against Asians led the BC government to ban Japanese Canadians from voting, which in turn affected their federal voting rights. During the Second World War (1939–1945), when Canada was at war with Japan, the democratic rights of Japanese Canadians were further restricted. For perceived security reasons, Japanese Canadians were forcibly relocated away from the Pacific coast and barred from voting federally, no matter what province they were in. It wasn’t until 1948 that Japanese Canadians were finally granted full federal and provincial voting rights.

In the years that followed, Japanese Canadians never stopped asking for an apology. They finally got one in 1988, when the federal government formally apologized for past injustices.


A black and white photograph of a Japanese family of five posing in traditional attire. An older gentleman sits in the middle, with two children on either side.
Source: Image C-07918 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

British Columbia joins Confederation. Canada’s population now includes a Japanese Canadian minority. They have the right to vote provincially and federally if they are men, age 21 or older, and own property.


A black and white photograph of a Japanese man seated beside his two young children.
Source: JCCC Original Photographic Collection, Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 2001.4.119

Because of the racist attitudes of many people in the province at that time, the British Columbia government passes a law banning Japanese Canadians from voting in provincial elections. Since federal voting rights are tied to provincial ones, Japanese Canadians living in BC cannot vote in federal elections.


Black and white photograph of Wilfred Laurier, standing beside a table with his hand resting on a large open book.
Source: Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, C-001977  

Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia get the federal vote when Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier’s government brings in a new Canada-wide electoral law that prevents provinces from excluding any ‘class’ of citizens.

Japanese Canadians are still denied the provincial vote in British Columbia.


Black and white photograph of a mustachioed Japanese man, taken from the waist-up, holding his hat in his hands.
Source: Yoshimaru Abe Collection, Nikkei National Museum, 2013.54.4  

Tomekichi Homma takes his legal fight to vote in British Columbia elections all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which rules in his favour. This decision is later overruled in England. Japanese Canadians continue to be excluded from voting provincially in BC.


Black and white photograph of two Japanese men in military uniform, holding rifles at their sides. One man stands, and the other kneels on one knee in front of him.
Source: Masumi Mitsui Collection, Nikkei National Museum, 2014.10.1.10

During the First World War, Japanese Canadians join the military to fight for Canada. These soldiers and all Canadian military serving overseas can vote in the 1917 federal election


Black and white photograph of Prime Minister Robert Borden, in profile.
Source: William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-028129

Prime Minister Robert Borden’s government passes a new federal election law. It states that a person cannot vote federally if they are not allowed to vote provincially due to their race. This means that Japanese Canadians in BC are again denied the right to vote federally as well as provincially.

Japanese Canadians living in other provinces have the right to vote, but there are very few of them outside BC.


 A black and white photograph of a group of four Japanese men and women, standing on the steps of Parliament.  
Source: Isami (Sam) Okamoto Collection, Nikkei National Museum, 2000.

The Japanese Canadian Citizens League sends a delegation to the House of Commons to request the right to vote. Prime Minister Mackenzie King says he had not known they wanted to vote.

They are allowed to speak before a special committee, but do not succeed in getting the federal vote for Japanese Canadians.


A black and white photograph showing many people of all ages being loaded into the back of a truck, with their luggage. Many others wait in line behind a rope barrier.
Source: Tak Toyota, Library and Archives Canada, C-046350

After Japan attacks Pearl Harbor in the Second World War, Canada declares war with Japan. Japanese Canadians are seen as a security threat, and racism gets worse. Twelve weeks later, the Government of Canada orders all Japanese Canadians to be moved from the BC coast and confined in internment camps.


An illustrated poster depicting a map of Canada surrounded by a Japanese and German soldier on either side, with threatening expressions on their faces. The text reads: “They menace Canada on both coasts. Come on Canada! Get ready to buy the new Victory Bonds!”
Source: Library and Archives Canada, e010695747-v8

Canada is still at war with Japan. Parliament changes the elections law so that Japanese Canadians who have been moved from British Columbia are not allowed to vote federally, no matter where they live now.


Photograph of an elderly Japanese man holding a ballot next to a seated smiling women. They are pictured behind a metal ballot box that reads: “Dominion of Canada.”
Source: Vancouver Sun

After the Second World War ends, Parliament restores Japanese Canadians’ right to vote in federal elections. Japanese Canadians, like 88-year, old W.A. Curnyow (seen here), are now able to cast a ballot.


 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signs an official document. The Canadian government formally apologizes to Japanese Canadians for denying them their civil and democratic rights.
Source: The Canadian Press / Ron Poling

Here Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signs the apology while Art Miki, President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, looks on.


Case Study 2: Women


Black and white photograph of a young women placing her ballot in a metal ballot box, while smiling.
Source: Reg Innell, Toronto Star Photo Archive

The 1867 British North America Act allowed only men to vote.

Women formed groups in the 1870s to promote equality and fight for the right to vote by lobbying governments, marching and presenting petitions.

Different provinces had different rules for women and voting. The first success came in 1916, when Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta gave women the vote. In 1917, some women were given the right to vote in the federal elections during the First World War. In 1918, gender was removed as a criterion for voting at the federal level, and many women got the right to fully participate in elections by casting a ballot and running as a candidate. However, some women continued to be barred from voting for reasons other than their gender. It was not until 1960 that First Nations women obtained the right to vote.


Black and white photograph showing a group of men, including Sir John A. MacDonald, gathered on steps holding their top hats.  
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-091061

At Confederation, only men who are 21 or older and who own property are able to vote. Women are disqualified both federally and provincially.


Black and white photograph showing a large group of women, positioned in rows. Two dogs sit in front.
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-028033

The National Council of Women is formed to fight for women’s right to vote. Similar organizations spring up across Canada.


Black and white photograph of Sir John A. MacDonald standing in front of a fireplace, one hand on his hip, the other touching an open book on a small table beside him.  
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-010143

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald proposes expanding the right to vote in federal elections from ‘male persons’ to certain women.

Macdonald’s proposal is withdrawn due to opposition in Parliament.


Black and white photograph showing four women seated around a table. On the table is a large stack of paper.
Source: Foote and James, Archives of Manitoba, PR1967-43, N9905

Manitoba becomes the first province in Canada to grant some women the vote.

A year earlier, Manitoba women collected 40,000 names on a petition in favour of the cause.


Photograph of a group of female military nurses lining up and voting outside during the First World War.

Source: William Rider-Rider, Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-002279 (modified from the original). Colourized image courtesy of the Vimy Foundation.

During the First World War, Canadian women in the armed forces and female relatives of military men are allowed to vote in federal elections. The Canadian military nurses in this photo were stationed in France when they cast their ballots.


Black and white photograph of Agnes Macphail, seated.
Source: The Grey Roots Archival Collection

Many Canadian women win the right to vote federally and, a year later, to stand as a candidate for the House of Commons. In 1921, Agnes Macphail is the first woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.


Black and white photograph of Thérèse Casgrain.  
Source: André Larose, Library and Archives Canada, PA-178194

There was a lot of resistance to giving women voting rights in Quebec. It was the final province to do so. It took the efforts of activists like Thérèse Casgrain to bring about change.


Black and white photograph showing Prime Minister John Diefenbaker shaking hands with a First Nations woman, amid a small crowd of people of all ages. The woman has her arm around a young child.
Source: University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, John G. Diefenbaker fonds MG 411, JGD 3636

All First Nations women (and men) are given the right to vote in federal elections without any conditions. Before this, they could vote only if they gave up their Treaty Rights and status. Here, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker greets a First Nations woman.


Photograph of Kim Campbell standing behind a microphone, smiling and waving.
Source: The Canadian Press / Phil Snel

In 1993, Kim Campbell becomes the first female Prime Minister of Canada.

Today, Canadian women have rights equal to men, yet still face barriers to participating fully in political life.

Case Study 3: Youth

A photograph showing a group of young people protesting, waving Canadian flags and signs that say “vote.”
Source: Dave Chidley / The Canadian Press

In 1867, at the time of Confederation, only certain men aged 21 and older could vote in federal elections. People were considered mature enough at this age to make important decisions. During the two world wars, people under 21 could vote if they were in the military, but those rights were removed once peace returned. However, the wartime service of young Canadians led some parliamentarians to ask whether the voting age should be reduced.

In 1970, a full century after Confederation, the voting age was reduced to 18 with little debate, likely due to changing perceptions of the role of youth in society. Today, there is discussion in society about how to get more youth involved in the democratic process. Many are pushing for lowering the voting age to 16.


A painting depicting the Fathers of Canadian Confederation.  
Source: © House of Commons Collection, Ottawa

When Canada is formed in 1867, the minimum age for voting in federal elections is 21.

The Fathers of Confederation believe that people younger than 21 lack the knowledge and maturity to elect their representatives.


Black and white photograph of a group of soldiers in an empty battlefield marking their ballots.  
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-002318

During the First World War, everyone who serves the country through military service is given the right to vote, no matter how old they are.

People are supposed to be 18 to serve in the military, but many who enlist are younger.


Black and white photograph of three young soldiers in uniform.  
Source: Jean-Baptiste Dorion, Library and Archives Canada, PA-122937

The First World War ends. The minimum voting age returns to 21.

Military personnel who had been able to vote at a younger age lose that right.


Black and white photograph of a group of men wearing military uniforms, gathered around a table. One man gives a ballot to another man. On the wall is posted a paper that reads: “List of Electors.”
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-005160

During the Second World War, everyone serving in the military is able to vote in a federal election, no matter how old they are. Around 700,000 people in the military are under 21.


Black and white photograph of Tommy Douglas sitting in his office, signing and official document and smiling at the camera.  
Source: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, R-B5749

Under Premier Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan lowers the voting age to 18 for provincial elections. It is the first province to do so. This move prompts several other provinces to lower the voting age to 18 or 19.


Black and white photograph showing a large group of women wearing military uniforms smiling at the camera.
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-145516

The voting age for federal elections returns to 21 for military personnel, the same as for other Canadians.


Black and white photograph showing a group of young people standing together with Agnes Macphail.
Source: Courtesy of The St. Catharines Standard, photographer Don Sinclair

Youth at a national conference ask a panel of parliamentarians whether the federal voting age should be lowered.

Some prominent parliamentarians, such as Agnes Macphail and John Diefenbaker, are open to the idea.


Black and white photograph of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau shaking hands with a young person, while standing at the centre of a large group of smiling youth.
Source: Dick Loek, Toronto Star via Getty Images

Youth are active in the 1968 election, which brings Pierre Trudeau to power. Mobilized by the youth culture movement of the 1960s, they rally, march, lobby and petition Parliament on many issues.


Photograph of Canada’s House of Commons.
Source: © Library of Parliament - Roy Grogan

Two different bills to lower the voting age are introduced in Parliament—one as a private member’s bill and one by the government.

With little debate, the voting age for federal elections is lowered to 18. Millions of new voters can cast votes in the 1972 election.


Photograph of four smiling teenagers holding up a piece of paper.  
Source: Brian Higgins, CBC Licensing

PEI allows 16-year-olds to vote in a provincial plebiscite on electoral reform because these youth would use the new electoral system at the next election, when they are 18.

Voting age for provincial elections in PEI (and all of Canada) remains at 18.