Passage of Bill C-76 a game-changing win for voters’ rights

December 11, 2018
Media Release

We Stopped the Unfair Elections Act

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students are celebrating Bill C-76 passing in the Senate as a win for Democracy.

The restoration of voters rights in Bill C-76 was made possible by years of organizing by Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) members and supporters, alongside many other organizations.

The legal challenge to the “Fair” Elections Act brought by the Council and CFS was a key front in the effort to repeal the voter suppression enacted by the former Harper government’s “Fair” Elections Act.

“Students have been fighting against the voter suppression elements of the “Fair Elections Act” alongside the Council of Canadians since 2014,” said Coty Zachariah, CFS National Chairperson. “This is a hard-fought victory that will allow more students, seniors, and the homeless to exercise their right to vote in 2019.”

Bill C-76 repeals the main undemocratic elements of the Unfair Elections Act, which the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, and others have organized to challenge politically and fought in the courts. These changes include:

  • Restoring the Voter Information Card as valid ID for voting.
  • Restoring vouching as an accepted process enabling people to confirm their identity and residence so they can vote.
  • Restoring the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections by moving it back to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
  • Ending the restrictions on Elections Canada engaging in public education on voting.

“We’ve succeeded in restoring voting rights to hundreds of thousands of people, despite the best efforts of the former Harper government to make voter suppression the law of the land,” says Andrea Furlong, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians. “Our collective action to challenge the Unfair Elections Act, despite the odds against these efforts succeeding, has changed the game for the next and future elections.”

Bill C-76 gives the Commissioner of Canada Elections new investigative powers, including the ability to compel testimony, and makes increases to requirements for the protection of personal information by political parties in their databases (though unfortunately this does not include a mechanism for independent oversight), both of which the Council of Canadians called for in the wake of the 2011 robocalls election fraud scandal.

The bill also restores the voting rights of Canadians living abroad, a move which the Council and CFS have supported.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students wish to thank their members, supporters, allies, and everyone else who helped to challenge the Unfair Elections Act. The organizations encourage constant vigilance in the defence of voters’ rights in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election.

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For more information or to arrange interviews:

Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, 613-795-8685, dpenner@canadians.org

Justine De Jaegher, Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Students, 613-232-7394 ext. 215, j.dejaegher@cfs-fcee.ca

BACKGROUND

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of students have spent years organizing to win the repeal of the voter suppression that was enacted by the “Fair” Elections Act.

In 2012, in the wake of what became known as the robocalls scandal, the Council of Canadians supported a legal challenge by individual electors to the results of the 2011 federal election in several ridings.

While this legal challenge did not overturn any 2011 election results, it did lead to the Federal Court finding that there had been widespread election fraud. Namely, the Federal Court established that in the 2011 federal election there was an orchestrated campaign of thousands of fraudulent misleading calls that aimed to send people to the wrong polling stations, that it targeted non-Conservative voters, that it had an effect on the results of that election, and that the likely source of the calls was the Conservative Party database.

The “Fair” Elections Act itself was put forward on the pretext of addressing the robocalls scandal. But it never addressed the main concern at the time, which was the campaign of misleading calls.

The “Fair” Elections Act, instead of addressing this voter suppression, stripped voting rights from hundreds of thousands of people. While the passage of Bill C-76 repeals that voter suppression, there remain many questions about the voter suppression that sparked it in the first place.  While Michael Sona went to jail, the ringleaders of the 2011 election fraud remain at large.

The Council, CFS, Leadnow, and others led a campaign against the Fair Elections Act in 2014. The organizations challenged the bill in Parliament and in the streets, from the moment of its introduction. The groups organized open letters, a viral video, launched petitions signed by tens of thousands of people, challenged the Act at House of Commons Committees, and held protests in communities from coast to coast.

While the “Fair” Elections Act ultimately passed and became law, the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students continued to fight it, launching the legal challenge to the Act’s violation of Charter rights.

The Council and CFS sought an injunction to temporarily set aside the voter suppression in the Act in the summer of 2015 in the lead-up to the federal election. While that effort did not succeed, the legal challenge to the “Fair” Elections Act has continued to this day, adding to the pressure that has made the passage of Bill C-76 possible.