Sask. advocates pushing for equal voting rights for prisoners

Advocates in Saskatchewan are raising concerns ahead of the prisoner vote in the federal election on Oct. 9, 2019. File / Global News

The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan (JHSS), which advocates for crime and prison reform, is calling for equal opportunities for prisoners as non-prisoners when exercising their right to vote.

Prisoners will cast their ballot on Oct. 9, which is 12 days ahead of election day.

“Prisoners vote on October 9, well before the rest of the country,” said Shawn Fraser, CEO of the JHSS. “Having limited access to information, and a tighter timeline to decide who to vote for makes it more of a challenge for them to participate in the election.”

“If we believe the correctional system is meant to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders back into society, they should be supported in exercising this right and understanding who and what they are voting for.”

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Ahead of Oct. 9, Nicholas Blankensop, a lawyer with Community Legal Assistance Services For Saskatoon Inner City (CLASSIC), put together an information package that was sent to all prisons across Saskatchewan.

The package includes a pamphlet telling prisoners how they can cast their ballot, instructions on the process, signage for the liaison officer to post where the voting station is located, a copy of the Canada Elections Act, and an application form to apply for their special ballot.

Their vote is cast in the riding in which they regularly resided prior to being incarcerated.

Blankensop said because prisoners vote early, the proper dissemination of information is imperative.

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“It is vitally important that prisoners have the necessary information,” he said. “While I have heard that the Correctional Service of Canada invites candidates to provide information, if the correctional services, both federal and provincial, are not doing more to provide people in prison with access to information about the parties, the platforms and the candidates in their respective ridings, then they are falling considerably short in their obligations in this regard.”

“We hope prison staff, along with the designated election liaison officer, will assist prisoners in exercising their right,” Blankensop said.

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Prisoners fully gained the right to vote in 2002 following a Supreme Court decision. Ahead of that, only prisoners with sentences less than two years were eligible to vote, something implemented in 1993.