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Port Coquitlam ponders prison polls

Inmates at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam will get the opportunity to cast a ballot in the upcoming civic election this November. - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Inmates at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam will get the opportunity to cast a ballot in the upcoming civic election this November.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Inmates at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam will get the opportunity to cast a ballot in the upcoming civic election this November.

Last week members of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association called on municipalities with remand centres or provincial jails in their jurisdictions to ensure prisoners are able to exercise their right to vote. Susan Rauh, PoCo’s chief electoral officer, said the city is looking into setting up a system where inmates could vote through a mail-in ballot, provided they have lived in the municipality long enough to qualify.

“That is something we are going to need to consider,” she said. “We are already using mail-in ballots. It is possible to make that option available to [the remand centre].”

Another option would be to have a mobile poll brought to the prison on voting day, however Rauh believes that could be difficult to arrange. She prefers the mail-in ballot option and said she would be speaking with NFPC officials to find out how to  facilitate the process.

Inmates serving more serious indictable offences do not have the right to vote in a provincial, federal or municipal election. However, the Local Government Act states that prisoners on remand awaiting trial or those convicted of less-serious summary offences have the right to cast a ballot in a civic election.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association points to a 2002 Supreme Court of Canada decision which states that it is the government’s duty to facilitate a voting process for inmates.

“It is imperative that those who have the right to vote be afforded the means to do so,” said Robert Holmes, president of the BCCLA. “People held in jail who have not been convicted of any crime should not be denied their vote.”

As the number of prison inmates grow, he said the population has become more politically significant, making the issue all the more pressing. Allowing prisoners to vote, he added, keeps the inmate connected to his or her community, making for an easier transition once they complete their sentence or are found not guilty.

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

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