A group of 13 youths, from 12 to 18 years old, are challenging the law that restricts the age of election voters to 18 and above. Photo from Elections Canada

Teens make their case to lower the voting age

  • April 8, 2022

Jacob Colatosti, a Grade 12 student at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hannon, Ont., is one of 13 young Canadians who filed a court challenge in December to overturn Canada’s minimum voting change law.

Recently named as an Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year recipient, Colatosti, 17, deems it wrongful that Canada’s Elections Act restricts Canadians under 18 from casting a ballot.

“Because we are not at an age where we can vote, we don’t have the ability to have our interests and priorities represented by elected officials as they will not take into consideration the opinions of non-voters as much as the people who can vote.”

The timing was ripe for such a legal effort, said Colatosti.

Youth will be commissioned to provide leadership in the jobs market as the world becomes even more digitalized, he said, and they will be called upon to address current and future social and environmental issues. In his estimation, increased roles and responsibilities for younger Canadians should be returned with greater political influence.

Colatosti said the online ecosystem helps nullify the traditional argument that youth should not vote because they are ignorant of their country and world at large.

“Technology has allowed us to become so much more engaged with information, and we are able to access a diversity of opinions on that information easily the way previous generations could not. It’s at our fingertips.”

He also counters the arguments that people under 18 shouldn’t vote because they don’t pay taxes, work or are fully developed cognitively by stating Canadians over the current age of majority are not held to the same standard.

Specifically examining the intellectual processing debate, Colatosti alludes to social science studies that suggest 16-year-olds have the cerebral capacity to vote and that brain capacity can start decreasing when Canadians are in their 50s.

Colatosti, a UNICEF ambassador for multiple years, said he developed his political interest and acumen in elementary school.

“I felt drawn to learning about our Canadian political system at a young age around late elementary school, and that interested led to me developing more and more complex opinions as I got older.

“Obviously one of the great things about living in a democratic country like Canada is having control over who represents me on a national, provincial and municipal level. By extension, you have your interests and priorities represented at all these different levels and there is great potential to create societal change.”

The court challenge application filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is supported by the Justice for Children and Youth legal advocacy group and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto.

Colatosti and his fellow litigants from across the country are hopeful their case will be heard at some point this year, but they are realistic that the timeline could be extensive. He will celebrate his 18th birthday, very likely well before a court decision is rendered.

This lawsuit does not push for a specified new voting age, however Colatosti mentioned that 16-year-olds get to cast a vote in Austria, Scotland and some Central and South American countries. Legislative bills to amend the voting age to 16 have also been proposed in the House of Commons and the U.S. House of Representatives over the years.

In November, Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran re-introduced a bill in the Senate to lower the voting age to 16 via a referendum.

Colatosti balances his enthusiasm for politics with a variety of other interests. He plays the drums, coached the St. Luke Catholic Elementary school robotics team for years and he engaged in various sports and drama clubs at his high school.

Colatosti shared with The Catholic Register about how his Catholic faith fuels his convictions.

“I have been engaged with the faith and have developed my personal relationship with God over my school journey, and hopefully I will continue doing so as I go forward in life. As I’ve grown older, I find my growing relationship with God ties very closely to my relationship with activism and politics.

“As Catholics, we have a duty to stand up for what is right and advocate for people who don’t have an opportunity to do so.”

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