Recently over a million Canadians lost their ability to vote. This was the result of an Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Frank V. Canada, which held that Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years would no longer have the right to vote. The decision restored sections of a 22-year-old law previously struck down as unconstitutional. The court’s majority essentially decided that the exclusion of non-residents was ultimately permissible as it reinforced a “social contract” dictating that those who vote should be those subject to the resulting laws. Since few Canadian laws are enforced outside of our borders, the court reasoned that the limitation on the voting rights of the non-residents was justifiable.
In a powerful dissent, the minority disagreed that being resident should be the key factor, noting the constitution specifically tied voting rights to citizenship alone. Perhaps most importantly, the minority argued that since the legislation provided a series of exceptions to the ban (such as for civil servants or armed forces members posted abroad), the minority saw stripping the vote from others as reflecting a value judgment upon those individuals.
It is not difficult to understand the frustration of those who brought the case. They are professionals working in America due to their inability to find positions in Canada, but who identify solely as Canadian, and intend to return as soon as they can. To be told that they cannot vote is, to their minds, tantamount to being told they aren’t truly Canadian. Yet more galling is the fact that the decision will, in reality, affect very few people. Few Canadians living abroad make the effort to vote (there were only 6,000 in the last federal election), so they feel that this decision counter-intuitively penalizes those who care enough to try.
Full Article: Ex-pat voting law built for another era | Toronto Star.