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Breaking Barriers: Factors that kept some Canadians out of the polls

December 17, 2019 | Breaking Barriers, News

By: Alannah Page

The last federal election was decided just over a month ago and while many Canadians might have already put the thought of politics out of their mind, there are many people who didn’t make it to the polls despite being eligible voters.

By law, in order to be considered an eligible voter, you must meet the two following criteria, be 18 years of age or older and be a Canadian citizen. However, meeting these criteria can be a lot more difficult than they first appear and some of the four most significant barriers to voting impact the most vulnerable citizens in society.

  1. Not having a permanent address

When going to the polls the main requirement is that you present a valid driver’s license as proof of address and citizenship. However, it can be daunting for people who live on the streets or are in-between homes to go to the polls without a proof of address easily accessible.  

According to the Elections Canada website, a homeless person can vote a few ways, such as showing a piece of I.D. with their names on it, like a fishing license, library card or Social Insurance card. Also, if you are staying at a shelter or other residence you can ask for a letter of confirmation to present at the polling station. Other solutions can be found on their website under the FAQ section.

A new mobile polling station system was recently established in Alberta’s last provincial election that saw polling stations being set up at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. The polling station allows multiple forms of identification which bridges the barrier to voting due to lack of I.D.

  1. Having a disability

Though many polling stations do what they can to accommodate physical disabilities in many rural locations it’s not always that simple. There may be a ramp-up to the voting area but something as simple as one elevated step can deter persons with a disability from casting their ballot. 

According to 2017 data from statistics, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 or over have a disability. In 2015, 48 per cent of people attributed “everyday issues” which include being out of town, ill, or having a disability as the reason they did not vote. 

In some circumstances, such as living in a long-term care facility, Election representatives may come to voters to ensure those with mobility issues get a chance to vote. Other solutions are ramps, accessible elevators and mail-in ballots for those who are unable to make it to the polling station.

  1. Being in prison

Since 2002, all people incarcerated in a Canadian prison have been allowed the right to vote Federally and Provincially. Prior to this only Canadians serving a sentence less than two years were eligible to cast a ballot. 

According to CBC, in the 2015 Federal election, 22,362 people voted from prison but 7.5 per cent of ballots were rejected.

Inmates often have access to T.V. but not to the internet so they are forced to rely on what the media presents as the political parties’ message as opposed to doing their own research. This can often result in the inmates not knowing much about the person or party they are voting for. 

Inmates are able to register to vote by filling out the Application for Registration and Special Ballot form and can vote only on the 12th day before the election as opposed to when all the other Canadians vote. Voting from prison is a bit different because instead of writing an X next to your preferred candidate’s name inmates must write out the full name of whoever they vote for and then put it in an envelope. 

  1. Living on a reserve 

According to research completed after the 2015 federal election 62 per cent of First Nations living on reserves voted, compared to 66 per cent of the non-First Nations population. This was the higher than in 2008 and preliminary reports show that voter turn out on reserves in the 2019 election surpassed previous years, with Alberta having the highest. Many people are attributing this rise in voter turn-out to the record-setting number of Indigenous candidates who ran for office in the last election. APTN reported that there were 62 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit candidates registered.

Despite the numbers rising there are significant barriers for those living on reserves when it comes to information around the election as well as access to polling stations. According to a blog post by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., things like identification, emotion and physical limitation can all pose a barrier to on-reserve voting. 

This barrier can be bridged by factors that we saw emerge in the last election, such as more Indigenous representation in politics, accessible polling stations and political activism aimed at demanding change for Indigenous Canadians. 

While voting remains a democratic right in the country, it can help to be mindful of those who are not able to exercise it due to lack of privilege. In addition to the list above, not having internet access, transportation and the ability to obtain information about the political parties are also barriers to voting that impact incarcerated, homeless and less fortunate Canadians. 

Breaking Barriers: Transportation

October 1, 2019 | Breaking Barriers

Public transit is often a lifeline for low-income Calgarians. As an integral part of daily life, equitable access to transit provides opportunities for better jobs, education and maintains connections with the community. Public transportation is often the only mode of affordable transportation; as many low-income individuals do not have access to a vehicle or public car services, such as Uber and Car2Go. Without access to transportation, individuals are isolated and unable to respond to appointments, community events, or spend time with family and friends. The absence of an affordable and consistent transit system means the city’s most vulnerable populations suffer, weakening the whole community.

For many people living below the poverty line, students and newcomers to Canada, the fare for the city’s public transit is already difficult to afford. In 2017, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary conducted a study in collaboration with Athabasca University and the Calgary Justice Sector Constellation exploring the impact of Calgary’s bylaw enforcement practices on marginalized populations. The study showed that transit fines from unpaid fares comprised roughly 65% of fines that respondents had most recently. Low-income riders often choose to engage in a cost-benefit analysis–weighing the cost of purchasing a fare or monthly pass against the $250 ticket for transit fare evasion. One of the primary purposes of bylaw enforcement is to discourage behaviour through deterrence, but 37.9% of respondents indicated that they would not be deterred from committing similar acts in the future because their life circumstances made it difficult to do so. As opposed to focusing on the root causes of poverty, bylaw fines target behaviour that results from these social inequities. Therefore, affordable access to transit services is one tool to prevent further discrimination against Calgary’s vulnerable populations.

Two successful initiatives were implemented to support the decriminalization of bylaw fare tickets and their impact on low-income Albertans. The City of Calgary introduced a low-income monthly-pass system with a sliding scale for cost of fare. The goal of this pilot project is to support the decriminalization of fare evasion by making fares affordable to all.

Secondly, on May 1, 2017, the province of Alberta implemented Bill 9, an Act to Modernize Enforcement of Provincial Offences, which stops the use of arrest warrants for minor provincial and municipal infractions. Under the former system, people could potentially find themselves with an arrest warrant for failure to pay a fine. Even if this would not lead to their criminalization or incarceration, the time spent in arrest processing to deal with an outstanding bylaw matter could affect their employment.

In April 2017, the City of Calgary began offering Low-Income Transit Passes on a sliding-scale. Passes are available to those of low-income after an assessment of income is conducted and offers a 50% discount on monthly passes at minimum to as low as $5.25 for those on assistance or disability. By 2018, over 425 000 low-income passes were purchased, with over 60% sold to households earning less than 50 per cent of the Low-Income Cut-Off ($25 338 when providing for oneself and up to $67 706 if providing for 7 people). In a study conducted by Fair Calgary Community Voices in 2018, hundreds of Calgarians stated that their lives and communities have been changed by the affordable fare system. They cited increased access to jobs and opportunities, improved health and wellbeing, increased access to education, increased financial resiliency and increased access to community and friends as just a few of the benefits.

In July 2019, Calgary City Council voted in favour of cutting $60 million from the rest of this year’s operating budget, with $6.9 million cut from public transit and a further $2.4 million from specialized transit services, totalling $9.3 million. While Low-Income Transit Passes managed to survive the budget cuts, there will be 80,000 fewer Calgary Transit service hours, which means reduced frequency of busses and CTrains. For those that solely rely on public transit, there are already a number of hurdles that they must overcome daily. For many, bus routes only frequent their area once an hour and their travel time can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. Thus, they may need to show up to their work an hour early, resulting in hours of lost time throughout their day.

We encourage the provincial government to continue their research into the efficacy of bylaw enforcement and commend the City of Calgary for retaining Low-Income Monthly Passes. The recent changes in hours do have an impact on the accessibility for those low-income Calgarians who rely heavily on public transportation. As these cuts in service are reviewed for efficiency, there is hope that the areas that may be affected most negatively will be reviewed for adaptations. As Calgarians, we have a duty to support those of our community who are impacted by poverty, by ensuring that options to decrease the potential of criminalization are supported as mobility as we know is the key to a well-functioning community.

Breaking Barriers – To Employment

June 19, 2019 | Blog, Breaking Barriers

Written by Selwynne Hawkins

For people who have been recently incarcerated, access to a stable job reduces the chances of recidivism and is a key factor in successful integration into the community. But, even after an offender has “served their time,” they continue to face stigma and discrimination for mistakes they made in the past. This stigma manifests itself in many ways, making it difficult for people with criminal records to find employment.

In a year-long project, the Research and Evaluation team at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary performed a qualitative analysis to investigate the barriers people with criminal records face in their search for employment.

Barriers to finding and securing employment

Most employers require criminal record checks for job applicants. A clean record is taken as an assurance of good character. However, the implications of a criminal record check are not always clear or transparent. In some cases, a prior offence that shows up on a police information check is unrelated to the job application at hand or occurred when the individual was younger or in a challenging phase of their lives.

Larger employers often have policies in place for hiring people with criminal records, while often smaller employers may not always have a policy in place. Employers without policy surrounding criminal records are more likely to reject applicants with criminal records, as they are lacking knowledge of best practices for addressing criminal records within their own organizational context.

Unlike the human rights acts of Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, the Alberta Human Rights Act does not protect against discrimination based on criminal record. For Albertans with criminal records, a criminal record can be a significant barrier to securing employment. Even after someone with a criminal record has secured employment, they may still face stigma and discrimination in their workplace should this record become known outside of the employer.

Without access to sustainable employment, individuals tend to find ways to secure some means of financial support by being forced to work in dangerous conditions and/or end up working under the table for less than what would be available to them should they be working legitimately. They work without benefits, the security of WCB, and without vacation pay or overtime pay as required by law.

Some of the recommendations we learned from the research were that we need to start addressing these barriers, with accessible information and education for employers. This education will assist them in implementing changes to their human resource policies regarding exclusionary practices around criminal records. It will open up possibilities for employers to have more meaningful and open discussions around criminal records. Secondly, and a much larger challenge is to address changes in legislation requiring employees to investigate past criminal records on a criteria that includes length of time since the record was incurred and whether the record has relevant risk to the position being hired.

What can your workplace do to give women a chance at integrating successfully with employment and providing them with the independence they need to avoid becoming recriminalized?