The “Fair” Elections Act received Royal Assent and became law only yesterday, but is already facing a Charter challenge. Two of the groups which led the charge against the bill – the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students – will ask a court to strike down key sections.
The legal challenge will target central provisions of the Act: the prohibition on the use of a Voter Information Card to prove residency and the muzzling of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). The groups will argue both of these ‘reforms’ infringe 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.
“The “Fair” Elections Act will disenfranchise post-secondary students by interfering with the right to vote,” says Jessica McCormick, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “The restrictions on the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to inform and engage students as well as prohibiting the use of a Voter Information Card as proof of residency interfere with the right of electors to play a meaningful role in the electoral process.”
Under the Act the Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be able to implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to electors, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.
While Elections Canada will still be permitted under the Act to “advertise,” all other forms of communication and engagement with Canadians will be off limits. Imposing these restrictions on Elections Canada will make it far more difficult to conduct campaigns to encourage young people, Indigenous people, new immigrants, or anyone else to exercise their democratic rights. These restrictions on the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians will also make it more difficult for voters who have been the victim of election fraud to defend their right to vote in a fair election.
“The “Fair” Elections Act inhibits the right of voters under the Act to challenge a result where “fraud or corrupt or illegal practices (has) affected the result of the election,” says Garry Neil, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians. “Techniques like using large-scale robocalls or live calls to mislead or defraud electors were already difficult to detect. The nature of the widespread campaign of voter suppression in the May 2011 election did not become widely known until months later when the CEO released information about complaints received from Canadians across the country. This will be impossible under the new law.”
In its decision arising from the challenge of 2011 results, the Federal Court found there had been a widespread campaign of fraudulent calls, targeted at non-supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The groups will be asking the court to overturn the sections of the “Fair” Elections Act before the next federal election.