A bid to stop a key provision of the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act from being implemented in this fall’s election has been denied by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Justice David Stinson ruled on Friday that a request by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students for an interim injunction against new rules for voter identification could not be granted. The activist groups that brought forward the challenge had been seeking to allow Canadians to use the voter-information cards they receive in the mail as proof of identity at polling stations – something that Elections Canada had been planning to allow before changes to the Canada Elections Act were passed by Parliament in 2014. They argued in court that the effect of those changes, which require government-issued photo identification with proof of address in order to vote, would effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of people – especially aboriginals, students, the homeless and elderly people living in care homes – who might not have driver’s licences, the easiest such form of ID.
In addition to explicitly banning the use of the information cards at the polls, which Elections Canada tested in a pilot project with 900,000 eligible voters during the last federal election, the Fair Elections Act also ended the practice of “vouching,” in which voters with acceptable ID could attest to the identity and addresses of those who lacked it.
Justice Stinson stressed that he was not making a definitive ruling on whether the provisions violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the applicants have argued, and noted they have raised questions that are “not frivolous.” Those will be determined, he wrote in his ruling, once the groups’ full application to have the legislation overturned is heard in court – something there was not time for in advance of this fall’s vote.