Shades of voter apathy
Dec. 2, 2005.
Sabah Hormiz has been a Canadian citizen for seven years.
But he has never voted.And he says he doesn't plan to cast a
ballot this time, either.
"When we came here we left too much behind," said
the 36-year-old Assyrian Catholic who fled persecution in Iraq
in 1994. "It's hard to figure out where you fit here. None
of the (political) parties carry my dreams."
Hormiz lives in the ethnically diverse northwest Toronto riding
of Etobicoke North, which had Ontario's second-lowest voter turnout
in the 2004 federal election. Just 51 per cent of eligible voters
in the riding cast a ballot. Only neighbouring York-West was
lower. Nationally, almost 61 per cent of Canadians voted in June
The Star wants to find out why people don't vote and
will focus on Etobicoke North during the eight-week campaign
because it has a polling station where just 18.5 per cent of
eligible voters cast a ballot in 2004.
No other riding in Ontario with an unusually low turnout
overall has a poll where so few people voted.
Hormiz is among those who didn't vote in Poll 37 - a pocket
of three 40-year-old mid-rise apartment buildings filled with
relatively new immigrants like himself - in the riding's Albion
Rd. and Martin Grove Rd. area.
Assyrian Catholics from Iraq and East Indians form the largest
ethnic groups in the buildings, said Ron Sicard, building superintendent
for 1865 Martin Grove Rd. for the past decade. Most are still
not citizens, he added. About 44 per cent of households in the
area are families with children, according to Statistics Canada.
Although crime in the area is high - the churchyard where
Amon Beckles was recently shot dead during a funeral is just
across the street - the buildings themselves are relatively safe,
Political sociologists saylow-income groups tend to vote
less than middle-income earners.
Professor Robert Andersen, a political sociologist at McMaster
University who studies electoral behaviour, said people living
in areas of high crime are also less likely to vote.
"When you have communities with high crime rates, people
get disillusioned," he said. "Especially in Canada
where there really isn't much difference between the two leading
parties, people don't see how either party could make a difference
in their lives."
People are also affected by what their neighbours are talking
about. And if there are many non-citizens in the area who aren't
paying attention to the election, it's unlikely those who are
eligible to vote will become engaged, Andersen added.
Homa Amiri, 31, an Afghan refugee who became a citizen seven
months ago, is keen to vote for the first time in her new country.
"We are living here and this is our chance to make a
choice, to vote for peace," she said. "In my country
there is so much war and trouble."
Although the mother of two, who works the evening shift in
a local bakery, doesn't know much about the candidates or the
issues, she said she will be searching the Internet to learn
Her uncle, Baz Abedi, 65, who immigrated in 2003 and is not
yet a citizen, said he understands why some people don't vote.
"People have lost confidence. They don't want to give
the vote to any of the parties. They are all the same. It's just
promises, not truth they are telling us," he said.
Some are simply too busy to vote. A 30-year-old East Indian
woman who has been a citizen for two years just shook her head
when asked if she voted in 2004 and if she planned to vote this
"I have twin sons and a daughter," said the woman,
who didn't want to give her name. "I don't have time."
Others just don't care.
"It makes no difference for us," said an Eastern
European woman who has lived at 1875 Martin Grove Rd. for 20
"I'm not interested. I've never been interested. I'm
interested in the arts and other things," said the woman,
who also didn't want to give her name. "Politics is a waste
Such indifference outrages Chirag Barot, 18.
"I think some people are just lazy," said Barot,
who attends Grade 12 at North Albion Collegiate Institute.
"Many people here are new immigrants and don't know much
about this country," he said. "But when you are a citizen,
you should be taking part in the election and you should be voting."
But it's not always easy for immigrants, especially those
like Younan Younan, who was held prisoner in Iraq for nine years
by Saddam Hussein.
Younan, who looks much older than his 48 years, has diabetes
and other heath ailments. And although he insists he voted in
2004, he can't recall going to the local school to cast his ballot.
"The war ...," he said, his voice drifting off.
"It has affected me in so many ways."
His roommate, also an Iraqi refugee and now a citizen, is
sure he didn't vote. The 47-year-old security guard, who didn't
want to give his name, said he's not smart enough to vote.
"It's too much for me. My brain. I just don't understand,"
he said, as he tinkered under the hood of his used car.
But it's not just immigrants who don't vote. Building superintendent
Sicard, a native-born Canadian, said he didn't vote in 2004 and
won't be voting for any level of government again anytime soon.
"I have absolutely no faith in government to get anything
right," he said, citing the gun registry and its inability
to stop gun crime in the area."And I don't believe anything
any of them say."