The discussion of allowing landed immigrants to vote during the municipal elections is nothing new. The Star covered it. David Miller is supportive of it. The Maytree foundation has a whole campaign based on this issue.
The reason I bring it up is because it is something that is close to me. A little over a month ago, I took one of the most important steps of my life: becoming a citizen of Canada. It was a powerful moment. I can now sing “O Canada” proudly as an accepted son of this great country. I can vote for all levels of the government, run as a candidate, apply for federal jobs and travel anywhere without being harassed by custom agents (most of the times).
And I am grateful for all of that, among the many other things.
My life as a resident of Toronto, though, is more or less the same. Except for the fact that -- for the first time ever -- I can participate fully in the upcoming municipal elections, my morning after the citizenship ceremony was the same as the ones of the last six years.
In no specific order, here are some highlights of my life since 2003 (the year I became a Landed Immigrant):
- Helped 25 youth get a unique summer employment experience in Toronto through my work
- Volunteered (4), attended and supported almost all of the major festivals that took place in the city
- Helped youth in the city become advocates for their health, rights and opportunities
- Became a 2010 DiverseCity Fellows member
- Organized and attended various rallies and actions (political, environmental, educational…)
- Helped organize cleanup events last year during the city workers’ strike and in 2008’s Earth Day
- Helped many newcomer immigrants, and other marginalized communities, become more included and engaged in their community
- Attended almost all Canada Day celebrations and picnics hosted by local dignitaries
- Helped raise funds for various charity drives and foundations
- Organized a major festival in Parkdale attended by over 600 people
- Enjoyed the wealth of restaurants, shops, cafes, galleries, parks … of Toronto
- Paid my taxes
- Etc, etc.
I hope this doesn’t come across as me showing off how awesome I am. We’ll cover that in some other post. Rather, it’s to show that I was offered all kinds of opportunities to be an engaged resident of this city. Not only that, but I was also active in many areas that helped sustain Toronto and make it a better, more vibrant city.
In the past six years, two municipal elections took place in which I couldn’t cast my vote. Since 2004, 7360 city bylaws were passed that affected my life as a Torontonian, all without me ever having a chance to voice my opinion in any meaningful way.
This year, I am fortunate enough to have a chance to finally say my piece and follow through on my responsibility of being a citizen. My dad won’t, even though he owns a house and is as active as I am in his community in Etobicoke. Neither will my friend who’s lived in Toronto for over five years. Neither will 263,000 other people like her. And if I didn’t get my citizenship this year, neither would I.
I am lucky in that my application was processed in six years. There are many who desperately want to be Canadian citizens whose papers will take much longer to get through, for various reasons, some of which that are beyond their control. For some, that letter inviting them to the citizenship ceremony will never arrive.
The history of progress is marked by the high points of people achieving the right to participate in that most cherished cornerstone of all democratic societies: voting. Women were allowed to vote in Canada 92 years ago. The Civil rights movement sparked a generation whose ideas and values are still resonant and reverberating today.
I don’t mean to say that the significance of those landmark moments then and this issue now is the same. But there are similarities in all three cases that are hard to ignore, namely that of exclusion and disparity of rights.
In an upcoming election where the same old tired complaints of voter apathy, disconnected wards and the lack of new faces among the political elites are loud and true, I can’t help but wonder if that would be mitigated by allowing the strong and active immigrant population to vote for changes that they deserve in the Toronto that they call home.
In the spirit of leadership, inclusion and a better Toronto for all, this is one step that is long overdue.
[Be sure to visit www.ivotetoronto.org
for more info about this, and what you can do to help.]
[Be sure to visit www.ivotetoronto.org for more info about this, and what you can do to help.]