Iqaluit teen taking Ottawa to court to lower voting age

Katie Yu, 15, is one of 13 youth litigants from across Canada

Katie Yu of Iqaluit is one of 13 litigants in a lawsuit against the federal government regarding voting age restrictions. (Photo courtesy of Katie Yu)

By Jeff Pelletier

An Iqaluit teen is one of 13 young Canadians taking the federal government to court over the law that restricts the voting age to Canadians 18 years of age and up.

Katie Yu, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Inukshuk High School, says it’s unfair for young people to be excluded from elections because parliamentary decisions affect her age group in the short and long term. Among the issues, Yu says youth need to have a voice on climate change, mental health and life after the pandemic.

“We deserve to speak for ourselves on these issues because we have opinions on how these things should be addressed,” she said. “We like to think about the future and how things play out.”

The lawsuit, which has the legal support of the Ontario-based Justice for Children and Youth, claims that the Canada Elections Act is unconstitutional because it unfairly discriminates against younger voters.

The Canada Elections Act limits voting in federal elections to Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years old. However, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not have any restrictions on voting age.

Section 3 of the Charter states: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Mary Birdsell, the executive director of Justice for Children and Youth, is one of three lawyers providing legal counsel to the 13 young people. She says the 18-and-older voting restriction is an unreasonable limit on young people’s constitutional rights.

“The age of 18 is not justifiable, in terms of a restriction on voting,” Birdsell says. “The government has to provide a reasonable and demonstrable restriction.”

There have been several attempts to lower the voting age in Canada over the years on a national, provincial and territorial, and municipal level. Last month, Senator Marilou McPhedran tabled Bill S-201, which calls on lowering the federal voting age to every “person who is a Canadian citizen and is 16 years of age or older on polling day.”

Internationally, very few countries have a national voting age of 16. However, Canadians as young as 14 are eligible to become federal party members, enabling them to vote on leadership and party policy.

Despite the legislative developments, Birdsell says a lawsuit is an important step in bringing attention to the legal rights of young people at the ballot box.

“There actually is a legal right at stake here, and the courts are just one mechanism, or one avenue, for seeking change,” she said. “Change is happening and being discussed in many places and we’re just hopeful that we can add these young voices to the mix.”

One of the barriers young people face when calling for the right to vote centres around the question of whether people under the age of 18 are mature enough to vote.

Birdsell contends that 16 is a reasonable voting age. In Canada, 16-year-olds are considered mature enough to drive, pay taxes and consent to sex, but not mature enough to vote, she said.

“There are lots of different laws where we use age as a proxy for something that we think is important,” she said. “It’s high time that we allowed teenagers, who are held responsible for many, many things … they should be allowed to participate in our democracy.”

Yu also says that maturity should not be determined by age, and teenagers who are getting involved politically on a number of issues deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

“That argument is based on an assumption because we have never had the right to vote,” she said. “When youth are given the opportunities to make change and have their voices heard, they’ll use it.”

The youth have filed the lawsuit with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

As the case goes before the courts, Yu says she hopes she and her fellow litigants will be successful, and the voting age will lowered.

“We have made change before, and I think when we’re given this right to vote, there will be a lot of potential benefits,” she said.

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Inumari on

    Its very nice to see young people being proactive in the public sphere. It shows initiative and willingness to be apart of the community.

    That said, I am not comfortable letting someone who doesn’t pay any bills, Rent/Mortgage, taxes, or any of their own belongings have a say where my tax dollars go towards.

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  2. Posted by Nope on

    I don’t agree with this initiative at all. The vast majority of adolescents are too ignorant and uninformed to be trusted with the vote.

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    • Posted by Raise the age on

      To be fair, there are also lots of adults that have no clue about politics either. Walk around asking people who the “leader of the opposition” is and you will likely get blank stares from over half the people you ask. I think 21 would be a better voting age, but definitely not 16! The 16 year olds will vote based on who the latest woke tiktoker is telling them to vote for

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      • Posted by Voting is a privilege, not a right on

        You’re right that many adult voters are also uninformed. That’s the problem with democracy in general. Voting is a right when it should be a privilege. That was the case when the Greeks invited it.
        You should have to proof that you have at least a high school education and pay taxes as the bare minimum to vote.

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        • Posted by Ya but NDP on

          Unfortunately if those were required to vote, the NDP wouldn’t even bother existing

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          • Posted by Education and Political Views on

            I think you have that backwards. Statistically speaking there is a positive correlation between educated people and left leaning political views. If we expected people to have at least a high school diploma and to have had pay taxes in order to vote the Conservatives would be the ones losing a lot of votes.

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    • Posted by Adults on

      Many Adults are also too ignorant and uninformed to be trusted with the vote.

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    • Posted by Section 1 on

      Good luck to the Government of Canada demonstrating with evidence that arbitrary voting ages MUST be maintained and reasonably justified in a free and democratic society. I mean they could run a test for basic competency and that would suffice. It works for citizenship, driving, etc., so why not voting? There must be 1000 alternatives to setting a voting age.
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      The irony is that so many adults have no clue about basic governance. Most people cannot actually tell you the difference of federal and provincial/territorial governments. If the standard for voting is some level of maturity and intelligence, more adults than ever fail this and should not be permitted to vote.

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  3. Posted by YouthAreTheFuture on

    Way to go Katie! This is amazing.

    If you’re old enough to work and pay taxes at 16, you should be allowed to vote.

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    • Posted by Gobble Gobble on

      Not true. People at that age may be old enough to work and pay taxes, but they legally are not responsible for their own welfare. Logically, it makes sense that as parents/guardians are legally responsible for the welfare of a child until they turn 18, they are responsible for voting for the government that will direct law and policy on how the country and society is run.
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      If youth under 18 want to make a change that they should be able to vote because they “are responsible for many, many things” (not), it should go hand-in-hand that they need to be accountable for their own lives. Vote at 16, get a tattoo without consent at 16, no consideration as a young offender at 16, serve in the military at 16, no assistance from social services if your parents kick you out at 16.
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      That’s what you want, right? Or did you not think this through?

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  4. Posted by Pain In The Groen on

    I support this 100%, good luck to Katie and the other complainants.

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  5. Posted by Iqalummiut on

    Maybe if there was a designated youth minister representing the voting youth. It’s not appropriate for most kids to be conducting other civil service duties like jury duty, military service or acting as a JP for instance.

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  6. Posted by Oooh on

    EVERY Canadian has the right… I read this to mean a person who is born on election day as well. Will be interesting.

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  7. Posted by No no on

    Only employed people should be allowed to vote. There should be an IQ test before having a kid as well

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    • Posted by Paul Nutarariaq on

      Than only 18 and over should pay taxes I guess too

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  8. Posted by William Westwell on

    I would be in favour of lowering the voting age to eliminate the YOA. You can not yes you are responsible enough to vote but not enough for your actions.

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  9. Posted by Reality on

    At that age! Shouldn’t they be worried about their children?

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  10. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Because the Charter of Rights & Freedoms doesn’t have a specific voting age doesn’t necessarily mean that every citizen regardless of age should be allowed to vote.
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    Citing the Charter is really a moot point as using the logic that since there is no age limit specified none applies quickly leads to a new born infant being allowed to vote, which is obviously absurd.
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    In Canadian law there are many different age limits specified for many different circumstances, such as being able to assume legal responsibility for one’s own actions as early as 12 years of age, or having sex, generally at age 16 (with exceptions), or voting in a federal election at age 18.
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    This then comes down to when most of society deems a young adult sufficiently knowledgeable and mature enough to select their federal representative.
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    Ideally you would like to make sure that any voter is well informed on the issues and has not been unduly affected by propaganda., lies, or deception. But this is after all politics so if you took that away, what would you have?
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    Looking at a number of the Members of Parliament who have been elected by people 18 years of age or older I’m not sure that a 16 year old couldn’t do a better job at electing our representatives.
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    Generally speaking those who decide to vote for the first time are more engaged and would look at the issues more closely and make an informed decision. True they don’t have the years of maturity to balance their enthusiasm but is that a bad thing?
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    After all if you can work and pay taxes should you not have a say in how that tax money is spent? I’m not sure that I agree with lowering the voting age, but it might not be a bad thing.

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  11. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    You need not look elsewhere than NTI elections and RIA electons. They have the lowest voter turnout because voting age is 16. Imagine the further degradation of Federal elections if children are eligible to vote. Yes 16 year olds are children.

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  12. Posted by Confused on

    Just live out Your teen years and not worry about anything.

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  13. Posted by education worker on

    I wish Katie could decide the future of this country. She is an amazing, hard working and very intelligent student.

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    • Posted by Unferst on

      Just stop with this idolization of youth.

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  14. Posted by S on

    Several factors distinguish children from adults in society; in earlier periods and other civilizations some of those factors were not in play

    We are in today. Though not absolutely reliable, age is most often used to officially distinguish adulthood from childhood. With that distinction, criminal and contractual obligations become attached; so too do criminal and contractual obligations.

    On this file, adults are using attention-seeking children and their parents to achieve vanity for all concerned

  15. Posted by DUMBFOUNDED!! on

    poor katie. wanting to be heard at a young age to be able to vote is hilarious.most teens today are to busy getting stoned by trudeaus stupid law of legalizing marijuana. just because marijuana is leagal for those 21 and over most young teens are now able to purchase marijuana by the drug dealers in town or by ordering their own marijuana by the companies down south. when i was growing up the parents had a saying “children should be seen and not heard”. Exactly. just because you are a teen and pay taxes from a part time job does not allow you the priviledge to vote. stay home and play with your barbies…stop pretending to be an adult in a childs mine.

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  16. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Youth turn out in the Inuit Org elections is very low as it is. Voter turn out in general is very low these last few years. Most youth are totally clueless about government whether it be municipal, provincial/territorial or federal. I’ve never met one who is aware of the parties, the leaders or what they stand for. Hell most don’t even know for sure who our Prime Minister is right now. Some will say Donald Trump-I( guess they never heard about Joe Biden getting in during the last ellction in the US and they are thinking we are American). Are these the mature youth we should be giving the vote? To be fair there’s also many adults who have no clue when they head to the poling stations. Maybe we should have a test before allowing anyone to vote,. LOL

  17. Posted by Name Withheld on

    In addition to qualifications for voters, how about qualifications to be a candidate?
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    Few of the candidates In the last Nunavut election had anything of a platform, beyond caring about housing, elders, food security and treatment. Not even one statement about what to do, except ask Ottawa for more money.

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