Black Men Earned the Right to Vote with the Abolition of Slavery


The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.

Black communities in Canada represent an array of experiences, below are some that relate to the right to vote.


During the period of African enslavement in Canada, from the early 1600s until its abolition on 1 August 1834, Black persons were legally deemed to be chattel property (personal possessions). As such, Black persons were not considered to be “people” and therefore did not possess the rights or freedoms enjoyed by full citizens, including protections under the law and involvement in the democratic process.

Black persons in Canada secured some rights and freedoms as their social status changed from enslaved persons to British subjects with the gradual abolition of enslavement, during the period 1793 to 1834 (see also Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery). As British subjects, they were technically entitled to all of the rights, freedoms and privileges that status carried. However, because of their skin colour, Black Canadians faced racism and their civil rights and civil liberties were limited. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex. Most women did not gain suffrage at the federal level until 1918 and between 1916 and 1940 at the provincial level (see Women’s Suffrage).

Black men had the right to vote provided they were naturalized subjects and owned taxable property. Until 1920, most colonies or provinces required eligible voters to own property or have a taxable net worth — a practice that excluded poor people, the working class and many racialized minorities.

Though Black Canadians were not prohibited by law from exercising the right to vote, public sentiment against extending the franchise to Blacks did exist, and local conventions did prevent Black persons from voting. The prejudice and discrimination they faced affected Black peoples’ decision to attend polling stations.

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SOURCE:  The Canadian Encyclopedia