The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have joined together to launch a Charter challenge against sections of the Harper government’s so-called “Fair” Elections Act.
The Harper government introduced the act – Bill C-23 – in February 2014. It proposed sweeping changes to election rules and was criticized widely by political parties, election law experts and the public. In the face of a massive outcry the Harper government retreated and changed some components of the act before it was passed by the Conservatives in the House of Commons and by the Senate.
The Charter challenge will target two central provisions of the act, including the ban on the use of a Voter Information Card to prove residency and the muzzling of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). Both of these changes infringe on people’s constitutional right to vote, which is guaranteed under Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not allowing the use of a Voter Information Card to prove residency will disenfranchise post-secondary students by interfering with their right to vote, according to CFS.
While Elections Canada will still be allowed to run paid ads, all other forms of communication and engagement with Canadians will be off limits. The Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be able to run public education programs to inform people about the voting process and their rights. Imposing these restrictions on Elections Canada will make it harder to encourage youth, Indigenous people, new immigrants, or anyone else to exercise their democratic rights. These restrictions will also make it harder for the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians about election fraud – which, in turn, will make it more difficult for voters who have been the victim of election fraud to defend their right to vote in a fair election.
There is nothing in the so-called “Fair” Elections Act to address – or prevent – the widespread election fraud that occurred in the 2011 federal election, which was brought to light by a legal challenge launched by eight Canadians and backed by Council of Canadians supporters.
The Council of Canadians and CFS will be asking the court to overturn the sections of the “Fair” Elections Act before the next federal election.