A Brief History of Federal Voting Rights in Canada

Background information 

The Voting Rights through Time activity uses brief case studies of specific groups to show that not everyone has always had the right to vote. However, these examples do not tell the whole story. The following chart presents some key milestones in voting rights at the federal level that students often pose questions about. Note that Canada’s voting history is complex. To learn more about the changes to Canada’s electoral system over time, please consult A History of the Vote in Canada.

Evolution of federal voting rights
1867British North America ActWhen Canada is formed, only men who are 21 years of age or older and who own property are able to vote in federal elections. People who are excluded from voting provincially cannot vote federally.
1876Indian ActFirst Nations peoples’ lives are governed by the Indian Act. It grants First Nations peoples the right to vote, but only if they give up their Indian status. They can vote because the law no longer considers them “Indians.”
1917Wartime Elections Act and Military Voters ActDuring the First World War, all male and female members of the armed forces serving overseas and female relatives of soldiers are offered the right to vote. This is the first time that some women, some men under the age of 21, some Asian Canadians, and some First Nations people can vote in a Canadian federal election.
1918Many women can vote federallyCanadian women now have the right to vote in federal elections if they meet the same eligibility criteria as men.
1920Dominion Elections ActA new elections law brings in major changes, such as the appointment of a Chief Electoral Officer. One of their first tasks is to add women to the federal voting lists. However, voting rights across Canada are still inconsistent for some racial groups.
1934Inuit are disqualifiedLegislation specifically excludes Inuit from voting in federal elections.
1948All Asian Canadians gain the voteThe federal vote is now open to Canadians regardless of provincial exclusions. Japanese, Chinese and other Asian Canadians can vote federally, no matter which province they live in.
1950Inuit are able to voteInuit obtain the right to vote in Canadian federal elections.
1960First Nations women and men can voteFirst Nations women and men are able to vote no matter where they live and without giving up their Indian status.
1982Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsThe Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the right of every Canadian citizen to vote and to stand as a candidate.

Facts of interest


In 1867, voting was considered a privilege. Only select people could vote: men aged 21 or older who were British subjects by birth or naturalized citizens and owned property. These rules excluded a large majority of the population of Canada from voting. Only about half the adult male population could vote.

Property ownership

For many decades after 1867 and until 1920, a property-based qualification required voters either to own property to a certain value or to pay rent or to make a certain annual income.

Voters lists

Voters lists indicate who may vote in an election. From 1867 to 1917, the responsibility for drawing up these lists shifted back and forth between the provinces and the federal government. This had the effect of disqualifying people in certain provinces.

First Nations

First Nations men could vote from 1869 onward only if they gave up their Indian status. During the First and Second World Wars, First Nations men and women who served in the military were given the right to vote. First Nations women and men got the vote unconditionally in 1960.


Voting restrictions were not formally imposed on Métis: they were allowed to vote if they met the gender, age, citizenship and property ownership conditions. A Métis man was elected to Parliament in 1871. Métis women got the vote in 1918 along with most Canadian women.


Inuit were not mentioned in federal election law until 1934, when they were explicitly excluded from voting. They gained the right to vote in 1950.


Religion was not normally a factor in voting eligibility after 1867, but during wartime, Mennonites, Doukhobors and Hutterites, among others, were restricted from voting because they opposed military service. Conscientious objectors were deprived of their voting rights in 1917 and again from 1938 to 1955.


During the First and Second World Wars, some Canadians were denied the vote if they were born in an enemy nation or if their primary language was that of an enemy country.

Black Canadians

Black Canadians have always had the right to vote at the federal level if they met eligibility criteria, such as gender, age and property ownership.


Certain occupations (government workers, judges and election officials) were excluded from voting for many years. Federally appointed judges first got the right to vote in 1988. Today, only the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is unable to vote.

Intellectual disability

From 1898 to 1993, many citizens with an intellectual disability were disqualified from voting in federal elections.

Incarcerated electors

Prison inmates were disqualified from voting from 1898 until 2004, when all prisoners got the right to vote, no matter the length of their sentence.


Until 2018, Canadians living abroad for extended periods of time were not allowed to vote unless they were serving in the military or in the federal civil service.