The Right to Vote and the Obligations of Employers to Protect that Right

The ability to vote is very important me.  All Canadians should have ample opportunity to cast their ballot in next Monday’s federal election.  In fact, during the municipal election this past Fall I was involved in a jury trial in Oshawa.  Although the court day would have finished providing ample time to vote, I asked the Judge to check with the jurors to ensure that their presence in court will not affect their ability to cast their ballot.

The Canada Elections Act recognizes that work commitments may get in the way of voting.  By law, an individual must have three clear hours by which to vote.  If one’s work day does not allow this then an employer must provide this time to the employee and must pay them their normal salary for this time.  This does not mean one who works a 9-5 can take off for three hours in the middle of the day to vote.  The purpose of the law is for those who would not otherwise have that three hour period (such as those working a 12-hour shift from 9:30-9:30).  For example, if an individual is scheduled to work from 9-7, they would not have a three-hour window to vote before polls close at 9:30pm.  In this case an employer should allow them to leave work at 6:30pm.  The only exceptions to this law is for those working in the transportation industry.

A young man just contacted me about a situation with his employer where he went and requested the appropriate time off to vote and was told that it would not be provided.  Upon further discussion the employer decided to take the shift away altogether.  While I am only hearing one side of the story and can’t comment on whether the employer is in violation of the law, stories like this do cause me concern.  For one, they show a lack of respect for the democratic process.  Second, and perhaps more troubling, they highlight how young people can be taken advantage of in the workplace for attempting to protect their rights.

An employer who refuses to provide time off work, or reduces an employees pay for taking the time off, can be prosecuted under the Canada Elections Act.  Maximum penalties after conviction are a $1000 fine and/or three months imprisonment.  There is, however, a separate offence for using intimidation to interfere with the granting of time off to vote.  This offence carries much stricter penalties.

A review of the law can be found on the Elections Canada web site.  From what I understand about Elections Canada, they take complaints very seriously.  I would encourage anyone who feels their rights under the Elections Act have been violated to give them a call.  I would be happy to provide advice on specific situations as well.

This blog post was written by Toronto Lawyer Adam Goodman.  Adam practices in the areas of criminal and administrative law and has been involved in elections since he was a teenager.  For more information on Adam’s practice, please see his web site at

2 Responses to “The Right to Vote and the Obligations of Employers to Protect that Right”

  1. Ross May 7, 2011 12:49 am #

    What would you make of the following scenario:

    Someone works from 6am – 2pm somewhere then works 2pm – 10pm somewhere else. Polling stations are open during both of those shifts, but if he asks the first place for time off they can say “Go vote at 2pm after your shift” and if he asks the second place they can say “You had plenty of time to vote before 2pm”. Is either company doing something illegal?

    • Adam Goodman May 12, 2011 11:08 pm #

      Interesting question which I don’t really have an answer for as it’s a matter of statutory interpretation.

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