timeline

Voting Rights in Canada

The struggle for voting rights is the struggle for human rights. Historically, governments have given the right to vote to the people who they’ve valued the most. Typically, this included only a select few. The majority of the population had to fight for their right to vote — a right that, once earned, could be taken away. 

The story of the right to vote in Canada is complex. Provincial and federal franchise regulations varied widely. This timeline provides an overview of voting rights in Canada.

“Votes for Women” pennant

January 01, 1400

Voting Rights in Canada 

Mi’kmaq Grand Council

Made up of male representatives from across Mi’kmaq territory, the council is governed by a grand chief and rules by consensus. The role of chieftain is often handed down from father to son. (Note: The exact date of this event is unknown. The date provided here is an estimate.)

January 01, 1400

Voting Rights in Canada 

Blackfoot Confederacy

A confederacy of Siksika (Blackfoot) nations is organized around bands. Each band has a male leader responsible for decision-making. He governs by consensus. (Note: The exact date of this event is unknown. The date provided here is an estimate.)

January 01, 1500

Ayenwahtha Wampum Belt

Voting Rights in Canada 

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy is Active

Formed by five nations, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is considered one of the earliest examples of a participatory democracy. (Note: The exact date of this event is unknown. The date provided here is an estimate.)

January 01, 1500

Huron-Wendat People

Voting Rights in Canada 

Huron-Wendat Village Councils

Civil and war-related affairs among the Huron-Wendat are determined by respective village councils. Decisions are reached by consensus. All men over 30 are council members but women have little-to-no say in council affairs. (Note: The exact date of this event is unknown. The date provided here is an estimate.)

July 21, 1647

Louis Buade, comte de Frontenac

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Civil Election in New France

Residents of Quebec City, Montreal and Trois-Rivières elect syndics, or trustees, to a colonial council responsible to the gouverneur. Syndics act as liaisons between residents and the council. However, they have no power to affect policy because the colonies are ruled by a monarchy.

October 02, 1758

Voting Rights in Canada 

Meeting of the First Elected Legislative Assembly

At the first elected legislative assembly in what is now Nova Scotia, only property-owning Protestant men over the age of 21 are eligible to vote. (See also Nova Scotia: The Cradle of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy.)

June 11, 1792

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Elections in Lower Canada

The first elections are held in Lower Canada. Anyone over 21 who owns sufficient property can vote, including women.

August 01, 1834

Richard Pierpoint

Voting Rights in Canada 

Abolition of Slavery Act

Black people are now considered British subjects, paving the way for property-owning Black men to vote. But racism and discrimination at polling stations mean many do not cast their ballots. (See Slavery Abolition Act, 1833.)

May 01, 1849

Voting Rights in Canada 

Women’s Voting Rights Removed in the Province of Canada

Legislation barring women from voting is passed by the Province of Canada and becomes law.

January 01, 1857

Voting Rights in Canada 

Gradual Civilization Act Passed in the Province of Canada

The government attempts to assimilate First Nations men by offering them the right to vote if they voluntarily enfranchise. This means giving up rights, including treaty rights. Only one person elects to do so under this Act. (See also Indigenous Peoples in Canadian Law.)

September 20, 1867

Macdonald Campaign Poster

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Election Post-Confederation

Sir John A. Macdonald leads the Conservative Party to victory. Men over the age of 21 who meet property qualifications can vote.

May 01, 1872

Voting Rights in Canada 

Chinese Canadians Banned from Voting in BC

The British Columbia legislative assembly passes a law banning Chinese Canadians from voting. Previously, Chinese Canadian men could vote in provincial elections.

April 12, 1876

Indian Act

Voting Rights in Canada 

Indian Act

The Indian Act is introduced. The Act aims to eradicate First Nations culture in favour of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. The Act also reinforces that Status Indians must voluntarily give up status and treaty rights to vote federally. Status Indian women are barred from voting in band council elections.

January 01, 1885

Voting Rights in Canada 

Electoral Franchise Act

The original draft of the Act gave federal voting rights to some women, but under the final legislation, only men can vote. The Act gives some Reserve First Nations with property qualifications the right to vote, but bars Chinese Canadians.

January 01, 1895

Voting Rights in Canada 

Japanese Canadians Lose the Right to Vote in BC

British Columbia amends the Provincial Voters’ Act to remove the right to vote from Japanese Canadians.

June 13, 1898

Chinese Canadians at the Mission School in Vancouver, B.C. in 1898.

Voting Rights in Canada 

Federal Government Returns Determination of Voters to Provinces

Provinces are given the right to decide who can vote in provincial elections. Some exclude Chinese Canadians from voting provincially. However, federal legislation allows Chinese Canadians to vote in federal elections.  

January 01, 1907

Voting Rights in Canada 

BC Provincial Elections Act Amendment Act, 1907

British Columbia removes voting rights from anyone with origins in South Asia.

January 28, 1916

Voting Rights in Canada 

Manitoba Women Win Right to Vote

Women in Manitoba who are of British descent or citizenship, 21 or older, and not otherwise disqualified are given the right to vote provincially and to hold provincial office. Other provinces soon follow and grant women the right to vote in provincial elections.

September 20, 1917

Voting Rights in Canada 

Wartime Elections Act and Military Voters Act

Parliament passes the Wartime Elections ActThe right to vote federally now extends to women in the armed forces and female relatives of military men. However, Citizens considered of “enemy alien” birth and some pacifist communities are disenfranchised. 

May 24, 1918

Voting Rights in Canada 

Women Granted Right to Vote in Federal Elections

Many Canadian women are granted the right to vote in federal elections, but First Nations women can only vote if they give up their status and treaty rights.

July 01, 1920

Voting Rights in Canada 

Dominion Elections Act

The Dominion Elections Act enfranchised many of those who had been disenfranchised during the First World War, such as those originating from countries with which Canada had been at war. However, the Act stated that anyone who was disenfranchised by provincial legislation because of race would remain disenfranchised from the federal vote. This included persons of Chinese origin in Saskatchewan, and those of Indigenous, Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian origins in British Columbia.

January 01, 1924

Voting Rights in Canada 

Status Indian WWI Veterans Granted Right to Vote

Male Status Indian veterans of the First World War gain the right to vote in federal elections without losing their status and treaty rights. 

January 01, 1931

Voting Rights in Canada 

Japanese-Canadian WWI Veterans in BC Granted Right to Vote

Veterans of the First World War in British Columbia become the first Japanese Canadians granted the right to vote in federal or provincial elections.

January 01, 1934

Voting Rights in Canada 

Dominion Franchise Act

Inuit and First Nations persons living on reserves are disqualified from voting in federal elections, except for First Nations veterans who had previously received the vote.

January 01, 1944

francis-pegahmagabow

Voting Rights in Canada 

Status Indian WWII Veterans Granted Right to Vote

Status Indian veterans who served in the Second World War and their spouses are permitted to vote in federal elections without losing status, with some conditions.

January 01, 1947

Voting Rights in Canada 

Canadian Citizenship Act and repeal of Chinese Immigration Act

Changes to federal legislation allow Chinese and South Asian Canadians to vote. However, it isn’t until 1951 that the final restrictions are lifted in provincial elections Canada-wide.

January 01, 1948

Voting Rights in Canada 

Amendments to Dominion Elections Act

Race is no longer grounds for exclusion from voting in federal elections. However, Status Indians still have to give up their Status in order to vote.

January 01, 1949

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Nations Win Right to Vote Provincially

Except in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Status Indians had been barred from voting provincially. Beginning with British Columbia in 1949 and ending with Quebec in 1969, First Nations peoples gradually win the right to vote in provincial elections without losing status or treaty rights.  

January 01, 1949

Voting Rights in Canada 

Japanese Canadians Win Right to Vote in BC

The last restriction on Japanese Canadians’ voting rights is lifted when British Columbia grants them the right to vote in provincial elections.

January 01, 1950

Voting Rights in Canada 

Inuit Granted Right to Vote

Inuit are granted the right to vote in federal elections, but the isolation of several communities means many cannot access polling stations. Later reforms increase access to ballot boxes.

January 01, 1951

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Nations Women Granted Right to Vote in Band Council Elections

Changes to the Indian Act grant First Nations women the right to vote in band council elections.

July 01, 1960

In Hiawatha Council Hall on Occasion of a Federal By-election

Voting Rights in Canada 

First Nations Can Now Vote in Federal Elections

First Nations peoples receive the right to vote in federal elections while retaining their status and treaty rights. However, they are still excluded from voting in some provinces.

July 09, 1969

Voting Rights in Canada 

Official Languages Act (1969)

The Official Languages Act was given assent, to come into effect on September 7. It declared English and French the official languages of the federal administration. Federal government services — including all services related to federal elections — must now be available in both French and English. (See Official Languages Act, 1969.)

January 01, 1970

Voting Rights in Canada 

Voting Age is Lowered to 18

Parliament passes legislation lowering the federal voting age from 21 to 18. This adds two million Canadians to the electoral rolls.

April 17, 1982

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Voting Rights in Canada 

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the right of every Canadian citizen 18 and older to vote and to stand as a candidate.

January 01, 1988

Voting Rights in Canada 

People with Intellectual Disabilities Granted Right to Vote

People with intellectual disabilities are granted the right to vote after a successful Charter challenge.

January 01, 1992

Voting Rights in Canada 

Bill C-78

Bill C-78 passes, changing the voting and electoral processes to make them more accessible to people with disabilities

October 31, 2002

Voting Rights in Canada 

All Prisoners Granted Right to Vote

In Sauvé v Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada holds that, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all prisoners have the right to vote.

January 11, 2019

Voting Rights in Canada 

Supreme Court Guarantees Expat Voting Rights

In a 5–2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that expat Canadians can vote in federal elections regardless of how long they’ve lived outside the country. The ruling, which came a month after the Liberal government passed simialr legislation, reversed a 1993 law and will likely prevent any future legislation from infringing on expat voting rights.

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