Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
Churches applaud giving prisoners vote
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
A Supreme Court of Canada ruling grants serial killers such as Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson the right to vote and the Church Council on Justice and Corrections stands behind the court's decision.
"Prisoners remain citizens when they are incarcerated and continue to be part of our society and our communities," said CCJC spokesperson Rick Prashaw. "They are not in 'outer space' nor aliens when they are sent away following their trials. Their disenfranchisement contributed to the 'us-them' mentality that does not serve their reintegration nor the creation of healthier and therefore safer communities."
Prashaw said the CCJC, - which represents 11 national churches in Canada, including Roman Catholic - "viewed the practice of not giving inmates the right to vote as further punishment that made matters worse."
In a 5-4 decision Oct. 31, the high court found that Canada's election law violates the fundamental rights of 13,000 federal prisoners in light of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The wholesale disenfranchisement of all penitentiary inmates, even those with a two-year minimum sentence requirement, is not demonstrably justified in our free and democratic society," wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on behalf of the majority. She added, "The idea that certain classes of people are not morally fit or morally worthy to vote and to participate in the law-making process is ancient and obsolete."
Until the Supreme Court's ruling, prisoners serving sentences of more than two years were prohibited from voting in federal elections.
Canadian Alliance justice critic Vic Toews told the House of Commons that the Supreme Court had "moved from the law courts to the theatre of the absurd."
Former Hell's Angel member Richard Sauve, who served about 20 years of a life sentence for the first-degree murder of an Ontario biker-gang member, first launched the legal challenge against the law preventing federal prisoners from voting in 1988. He has been before the Supreme Court on three occasions.