On July 2-3, the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students and three voters will be in Ontario Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend key provisions of the Harper government’s so-called ‘Fair Elections Act’ in time for the upcoming federal election this October.
More than 500,000 votes could in the balance with this challenge. The Canadian Press has reported, “The new rules [in the ‘Fair Elections Act’] forbid voters from using the Elections Canada voter information card mailed to their home as proof of residency — although some 400,000 voters used the cards for this purpose in the 2011 federal election. The law also now sets up a more restrictive process for attesting to the identity of voters who don’t have proper identification — a process known as vouching, which allowed 120,000 additional voters to cast a ballot in 2011.”
Today, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reports, “Voters’ inability to use their government-distributed information cards as identification in the next federal election is ‘an insignificant issue’, says the minister of democratic reform. During a stop in Saskatoon on Friday, Pierre Poilievre said the 400,000 Canadians who used the cards to vote in the last federal election were part of a pilot project and are a drop in the bucket of the 25 million Canadians eligible to vote. ‘So, as you can see, it’s an insignificant issue’, Poilievre said. ‘They will all be able to vote in the next election.'”
We take an individual’s democratic right to vote rather more seriously than the Harper government.
Our lawyer Steven Shrybman will argue at the Ontario Superior Court hearing the Harper government’s ‘reforms’ in the ‘Fair Elections Act’ infringe on the constitutional right to vote guaranteed under Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would be impossible for the government to justify as a reasonable limit on that fundamental democratic right. Shrybman says, “The very legitimacy of the government is at issue if these rules stand. Remember that a few hundred votes, even a few dozen votes, can determine the outcome of an election in any riding.”
Today’s news report also highlights, “Elections expert and former B.C. chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld filed a sworn statement for [the Council of Canadians] case, saying ‘tens of thousands’ of qualified voters could be turned away from the polls with the new rules. …[And] Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas [says] the changes make voting even more difficult for a demographic that already has a low participation rate at the ballot box. ‘As far as I’m concerned, 400,000 [votes] is not insignificant. One vote is significant in a democracy’, Thomas said.”
Poilievre maintains, “There are a very small number of people who disagree with [us on this], but we’re very confident in [our] position.”
If the injunction we are seeking is granted, that would mean that key provisions of the legislation would not be in effect for the October 19th federal election pending a full hearing by the court on the merits of the case. The Chief Electoral Office has already given evidence that if this were the case that he would allow Voter Information Cards to be used by all 23 million electors this coming election.
For more on this, please see our Fair Elections Act backgrounder.
Photo: Our lawyer Steven Shrybman; Harper’s minister of democratic reform Pierre Poilievre.