Case Study 1: Japanese Canadians
Japanese Canadians have lived in Canada since the 1870s, mostly in British Columbia. In this province, they worked as fishers, farmers and business owners. Due to racism, the British Columbia government banned Japanese Canadians who lived there from voting in provincial elections. This ban also affected their right to vote in federal elections.
Canada fought with Japan in the Second World War (1939–1945). During this time, Japanese Canadians lost even more democratic rights. The government thought that Japanese Canadians threatened Canada’s security and forced them to move away from the Pacific Coast. They could not vote in federal elections, no matter which province they lived in. Japanese Canadians were finally allowed to vote in all federal and provincial elections in 1948.
In the years that followed, Japanese Canadians asked for an apology. They finally got one in 1988, when the federal government formally apologized for past wrongs.
British Columbia joins Confederation – it becomes part of Canada. Canada now includes a small population of Japanese Canadians. They have the right to vote in provincial and federal elections if they
- are male,
- are age 21 or older, and
- own property.
The British Columbia government passes a law that bans Japanese Canadians from voting in provincial elections. Why? Because racist beliefs were common in the province at that time.
Tomekichi Homma wants the right to vote in the British Columbia elections. He takes his legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court rules in his favour, saying he should have the right to vote. This decision is later overruled in England. So, he is not successful.
During the First World War, Japanese Canadians join the military to fight for Canada. These soldiers and all Canadian military are given the right to vote in the 1917 election.
Prime Minister Robert Borden’s government passes a new federal election law: if a province does not allow people to vote because of their race, those people can’t vote in federal elections, either. This law means that Japanese Canadians in British Columbia lose their right to vote in federal elections.
The Japanese Canadian Citizens League sends a delegation to the House of Commons to ask for the right to vote. Prime Minister Mackenzie King says he did not know they wanted to vote.
The League speaks before a special committee, but doesn’t get the federal vote for Japanese Canadians.
After Japan attacks Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Canada declares war against Japan. Many Canadians see Japanese Canadians as a security threat. Racism against Japanese Canadians gets worse.
Twelve weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Government of Canada orders all Japanese Canadians to be moved from the British Columbia coast. They are forced to live under guard in camps away from everyone else.
After the Second World War ends, Parliament gives Japanese Canadians the right to vote in federal elections again.
The Canadian government officially apologizes to Japanese Canadians for denying them their civil and democratic rights. Here Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signs the apology while Art Miki of the National Association of Japanese Canadians looks on.
Case Study 2: Women
In 1867, the British North America Act was passed. The Act said that only men could vote. In the 1870s, women formed groups to fight for equality and the right to vote.
Different provinces had different rules about women and voting. In 1916, some women in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta won the right to vote in provincial elections. During the First World War, some women were allowed to vote at the federal level. In 1918, many women got the right to participate fully in federal elections.
However, some women were still not allowed to vote for reasons other than their gender. It was not until 1960 that First Nations women got the right to vote.
At Confederation, you can vote only if you
- are male
- are age 21 or older, and
- own property.
Women couldn’t vote in federal or provincial elections.
A group of women create the National Council of Women to fight for women’s right to vote. Women create similar organizations across Canada.
Manitoba becomes the first province in Canada to allow some women to vote.
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, these women are allowed to vote in federal elections:
- Canadian women in the military
- Women related to men in the military
In this photo, Canadian military nurses in France cast their ballots.
Many Canadian women win the right to vote in federal elections. In the next federal election (1921), Agnes Macphail is the first woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.
Quebec is the last province to give women the vote. It took the work of activists like Thérèse Casgrain to make this change.
All First Nations women and men are given the right to vote in federal elections without any conditions. Before 1960, they could vote only if they gave up their treaty rights and First Nations status. Here, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker greets a First Nations woman.
Kim Campbell becomes the first female prime minister of Canada.
Case Study 3: Youth
In 1867, at the time of Confederation, only certain men who were 21 and older could vote in federal elections. During the two world wars, people under 21 could vote if they were in the military. Once the war was over, they lost those rights.
In 1970, a full century after Confederation, the voting age was reduced to 18. Today, our society talks about how to get more youth involved in democracy and voting. Many people support lowering the voting age to 16.
When Canada is formed in 1867, 21 is the minimum age for voting in federal elections.
People are supposed to be 18 to serve in the military. However, many soldiers are younger than 18. During the First World War, everyone in the military is allowed to vote, no matter how old they are.
When the First World War ends, the minimum voting age returns to 21 for everyone.
During the Second World War, everyone serving in the military is able to vote in a federal election, no matter how old they are.
In 1944, Tommy Douglas is the premier of Saskatchewan. Under his leadership, Saskatchewan lowers the voting age to 18 for provincial elections. It is the first province to do so.
Youth speak to a panel of parliamentarians at a national conference. They ask the panel whether the voting age should be lowered.
Youth are active in the 1968 election, when Pierre Trudeau is elected as prime minister.
Parliament lowers the voting age for federal elections to 18. Millions of new voters cast votes in the 1972 election.
Prince Edward Island allows youth ages 16 and 17 to vote in a provincial plebiscite. During a plebiscite, people vote on an important question. In this case, the question is about whether to change the way provincial elections are run. These youth in Prince Edward Island are allowed to vote because they will be 18 by the time of the next provincial election.