An Ontario judge was urged Monday to consider whether the historical reasoning for a law which strips some expatriates of their voting rights makes sense in today’s world. The request came from a lawyer for two Canadians who are challenging the rule which affects citizens living abroad for more than five years. “The most critical thing is to look at whether these provisions are constitutional now, considering the current context of globalization and the way people travel around the world and are able to stay connected,” said Shaun O’Brien. “Lots of things existed in voting legislation that we no longer accept…The fact that historically the nature of our system requires residence doesn’t meant that residence is required now.” At the heart of the case being heard in Ontario Superior Court this week are the experiences of Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong. Both men moved to the U.S. for higher education and stayed on as their studies led to jobs, but both plan to move back home as soon as they find appropriate employment in their fields.
The pair were shocked to learn in 2011 that they couldn’t cast a ballot in the last federal election due to the five-year rule. They launched a legal challenge against the federal government two years ago arguing the rule in the Canada Elections Act is arbitrary, unreasonable and should be struck down as unconstitutional.
Their lawyer argued Monday that while residency is a mechanism to organize Canada’s voting structure, it should not curtail the right to vote. “Most people voting will be residents in Canada and there’s no issue and this isn’t changing that,” O’Brien explained. “The point is that if you’re not resident, you’re still entitled to have your voting rights recognized.”