Section 3–5: Democratic Rights

Section 3

Democratic Rights

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Charter contain rules that guarantee Canadians a democratic government.

Section 3 guarantees to all citizens the right to be involved in the election of their governments. It gives them the right to vote in federal, provincial or territorial elections, along with the right to run for public office themselves.

Again, some limits on these rights may be reasonable even in a democracy. For example, the right to vote or stand for election is limited to persons 18 years of age or older.

Section 4

  1. No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.
  2. In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be.

It is a basic principle in a democracy that a government must consult the voters and stand for re-election at regular intervals. Section 4 reflects this principle. It says that no Parliament or legislative assembly can continue to sit for longer than five years. Only under extraordinary circumstances, such as a war or national emergency, may a government stay in office for a period longer than five years.

Section 5

There shall be a sitting of Parliament and of each legislature at least once every twelve months.

Another basic democratic principle is that a government must explain its actions to the people. Section 5 of the Charter makes it clear that Parliament and the legislative assemblies must hold a session at least once a year. This rule ensures that elected members and the public have a chance to question government actions on a regular basis.

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