A B.C. court will be asked this coming week to decide whether the right to vote trumps all concerns about voter fraud, or whether protecting the system means turning some people away from the polls. The government has taken note of the case that resurfaced in 2012 following a two-year-hiatus during which the three applicants had to find themselves a new legal team. A summary of the case was contained in a briefing note to Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal with departmental officials adding they would keep Uppal apprised of further developments. When the case is finally heard in the first week of February, the onus will be on the three applicants from British Columbia — Rose Henry, Clyde Wright and Helen Eddlestone — to prove that the trial judge erred in his evaluation of the evidence. The three unsuccessfully argued in 2010 that Bill C-31, passed in 2007, places barriers between some Canadians and their constitutional right to vote. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is also asking the court to side with the three applicants.
“For a select group of vulnerable people in society, the voter ID laws actually can and do…serve to deprive them of the right to vote,” said lawyer Brent Olthuis, who represents Henry, Wright and Eddlestone.
“All we’re seeking to do is to undo amendments that were made,” he said in an interview with Postmedia News. “It’s not a radical result, in my viewpoint, that we’re seeking. It’s simply to undo fetters that were placed…on the right to vote.”
According to the applicants, those “fetters” were put in place in 2007 when Parliament enacted new election rules that included requiring voters to provide either government or photo identification at the polls, or swear an oath to polling station staff in the absence of approved identification, provided a registered voter at the polling station vouched for them. Before that, all people needed to vote was to walk into a polling station, state their name and address and they were allowed to cast a ballot.
At the time the bill was before Parliament, the government argued the new rules presented a balanced approach to allowing Canadians to vote while preventing voter fraud and the government argued the rules continue to make voting easy for any Canadian.