Florian Sperber is a student. He emigrated to Canada from Austria 18 years ago. He cannot vote in Toronto’s municipal election, but feels he should have that right.
“I believe I have earned the privilege to vote,” Sperber said. “The winning party effects me just the same as any other person, so why shouldn’t I have the right to decide who I want to represent me?”
Since 1987, only Canadian citizens have had the right to vote in municipal, provincial or federal elections. Sperber has been reluctant to apply for citizenship in Canada.
“I’m stuck at a crossroads because my (European Union) citizenship is part of my identity because I don’t want to lose it,” he said. “But at the same time, I can’t have any say in who is representing me (in Toronto), and I haven’t for 18 years.”
According to the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, there are some 250,000 permanent residents of voting age who cannot vote due to their status. Debbie Douglas, who speaks for the OCASI, believes this process doesn’t serve constituents.
“Citizenship is not just a piece of paper,” she said. “It’s about how one engages in their neighbourhood, how one engages with the community around them, how one builds community.”
At that, acquiring one’s citizenship may take up to 10 years for some permanent residents, according to City Vote Toronto’s founder Desmond Cole.
“Permanent residency means you have to wait three years before you can even apply to become a citizen,” Cole said. “ Meanwhile, these elections pass and they can’t participate.”
In addition to non-citizen permanent residents, those who are incarcerated cannot vote in municipal elections either. Amber Kellen of the John Howard Society of Toronto believes this must change.
“In both federal and provincial elections, prisoners are allowed to vote. In municipal, only sentenced prisoners are not allowed to vote,” Kellen said. “Here in Toronto, people who are in custody can only vote by proxy, which means finding someone from their ward to do it for them.”
She believes ultimately, that part of the voting system is flawed.
“People who are in remand are there temporarily, and they are coming back,” she said. “We’re doing the community a huge disservice by not allowing (these) people to be able to vote.”