Written by Alex Cosh
Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) announced earlier this month that all permanent residents of Canada can now join the armed forces. However, there is no sign that individuals with that status will be given the right to vote.
In an effort to alleviate recruitment struggles faced by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), DND explained on Dec. 5 that permanent residents – who “represent an important, skilled, and diverse workforce in Canada” – are now “welcome to apply to enroll in the CAF.”
Before the change, only those trained in foreign militaries with Canadian permanent residency were eligible to sign up for the CAF. The new change allows all individuals with permanent resident status to join.
“The CAF encourages permanent residents to give serious consideration to a military career in Canada,” reads DND’s press release. “Canada offers facilitated pathways to citizenship by recognizing the military service to Canada of permanent residents who join the CAF, and citizenship applications from CAF members will be processed on a priority basis…”
According to CBC News, more than half of the applications the CAF received in the first week of December came from permanent residents.
As explained by Canada’s ministry for immigration, a permanent resident is someone who has “been given permanent resident status by immigrating to Canada, but is not a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents are citizens of other countries.” This status gives individuals the right to access key social programs, live and work anywhere in Canada, and protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, permanent residents cannot vote in any elections, and there are few signs that this will change anytime soon. The Charter states that “every citizen of Canada” has the right to vote in federal and provincial elections. Citizens can also run for office.
The Canada Elections Act states that “Every person who is a Canadian citizen and who on polling day is 18 years of age or older is qualified as an elector.”
These restrictions have been questioned by civil rights and migrant advocacy groups. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) notes on its website that municipalities such as Vancouver and Toronto have in recent years made as-yet unrealized proposals to extend municipal voting rights to permanent residents.
“Although many non-citizen residents pay taxes and own property where they live, they continue to be excluded from the democratic processes, leaving them politically powerless in decisions that have a direct impact on their livelihood. This group includes particularly vulnerable populations such (as) refugees and temporary foreign workers.”
It notes further: “While the current constitutional framework limits voting rights to Canadian citizens, this would not preclude municipalities from extending voting rights to non-citizen residents if there was the political will.”
It is up to provincial governments to make amendments to voter laws that would allow this to happen. In New Brunswick, permanent residents will likely be granted the right to vote in municipal elections in 2026, according to CBC.
According to CCLA, 45 countries worldwide – including Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Malawi, Uruguay and New Zealand – have granted varying degrees of voting rights to non-citizen residents, mostly at the local level.
The Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia stated on its website that a proposed change to extend voting rights to permanent residents in Halifax would “demonstrate that immigrants are welcome and that we value their perspectives, experience, and contributions.” Calls for the change in that city were renewed as recently as this week.
In Passage, V.S. Wells wrote ahead of last year’s federal election that there is a “significant number of people — who work, pay taxes and tuition, and spend money on local goods and services in the country — that can’t vote. As such, places with large permanent resident populations end up with electorates — at the municipal, provincial and federal level — that don’t really reflect who lives there.”
Compounding the issue, said Wells, is the fact that many immigrants face barriers to citizenship – and therefore voter eligibility – under current laws.
“The major issue … is that it takes three years of living in Canada as a permanent resident, with temporary residency counting for up to one year, in order to apply [for citizenship],” Wells wrote. “This results in a lag of several years between arrival and being able to vote.” As well, many countries — including China and India — do not allow for dual citizenship, meaning some permanent residents cannot become Canadian citizens unless they renounce their citizenship from their country of origin.
Wells argued that given the reticence of most provincial governments to expand voting rights in municipal elections, the federal government could pursue constitutional changes to grant voting rights to permanent residents nationally.
“Having the ability to vote federally but not locally would certainly be strange, but starting from the top might nudge provinces into accepting this new status quo,” Wells wrote.