In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Section 51(e) of the Canada Elections Act, which deprived prevented convicted criminals from voting while in prison.
The government sought to justify the infringement of democratic rights, which applied only to prisoners serving sentences of two years or more, by claiming that it was necessary to enhance civil responsibility and to deter crime. The court, however, found no merit in this argument, stating that a prohibition on prisoners voting was neither proportional, nor rationally connected to any valid social objective:
With respect to the second objective of imposing appropriate punishment, the government offered no credible theory about why it should be allowed to deny a fundamental democratic right as a form of state punishment. Denying the right to vote does not comply with the requirements for legitimate punishment — namely, that punishment must not be arbitrary and must serve a valid criminal law purpose. Absence of arbitrariness requires that punishment be tailored to the acts and circumstances of the individual offender. Section 51(e) qua punishment bears little relation to the offender’s particular crime. As to a legitimate penal purpose, neither the record nor common sense supports the claim that disenfranchisement deters crime or rehabilitates criminals. By imposing a blanket punishment on all penitentiary inmates regardless of the particular crimes they committed, the harm they caused, or the normative character of their conduct, s. 51(e) does not meet the requirements of denunciatory, retributive punishment, and is not rationally connected to the government’s stated goal.
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