When Canadians vote in the federal election in October, thousands will cast their ballot from behind bars.
Inmates in federal prisons and provincial jails are eligible to vote for a candidate in the riding where they lived before they were incarcerated.
In the last federal election in 2011, voter turnout was 54 per cent in penitentiaries, not far below the 61 per cent who exercised their democratic right in the general population.
"They are part of the polity and they want to be part of the democratic process," Catherine Latimer, executive director of The John Howard Society of Canada, told CBC News.
Prisoners are informed voters, advocate says
Because prisoners have time to read and watch television news, they are just as informed - if not even more so - than Canadian voters on the outside, she said. Kits will also be distributed to help them with the voting process.
A 2002 Supreme Court of Canada judgment gave federal prisoners the right to vote on constitutional grounds, ruling 5-4 that voting is a fundamental right in a democracy.
Richard Sauvé, a former member of the Satan's Choice biker gang, was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder when he challenged the law that prevented him from casting a ballot while doing time.
As a result of that ruling, all Canadians living in the country are eligible to vote in the federal election — except for Canada's Chief Electoral Officer.
Of note, Parliament has still not amended the Canada Elections Act to reflect the court decision, so the prisoner voting ban is still on the books even though it is not enforced.
In coming weeks, Elections Canada will begin distributing registration forms to dedicated liaison officers at each Correctional Service Canada prison and community correctional centre (half-way house). All voters must register in advance and vote by special ballot on October 9th — 10 days before the general election day.
On prisoners' voting day, Elections Canada will dispatch representatives to each prison to administer the voting process.
Polling stations will be set up behind bars
"One or more polling stations are set up in the institution and voting starts at 9 a.m. local time. Polls will remain open until everyone who wants to vote has voted, but no later than 8 p.m. local time," said Melissa Hart, a spokeswoman for CSC.
There are currently 14,044 Canadians incarcerated in federal prisons — including 35 with dual citizenship — and 8,101 under CSC's community supervision. All are eligible to vote, even if they are held in segregation. Thousands of inmates in provincial jails are also eligible to vote.
Political candidates are allowed to campaign in prisons, but are subjected to the same rules and policies as any visitor to a prison, including security screening.
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