A law stripping voting rights from more than a million expatriate Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years should be struck down as unconstitutional, according to a legal challenge served on the federal government Tuesday. The new application, filed in Ontario Superior Court on behalf of two Canadians living in the United States, argues the five-year rule in the Canada Elections Act is arbitrary and unreasonable. “I was very surprised to learn that I have no voting rights, that I have no capacity to interact with my government formally, that there’s no one representing me,” said Gillian Frank, 33, who works in Brooklyn, N.Y. “My sense of being disenfranchised and the fundamental unfairness of it all motivated me (to file the suit).”
The Toronto-born Frank, who is completing post-doctoral studies in history, said he would gladly return to Canada with his Canadian wife and baby if he could find a suitable academic position. Frank said he retains strong ties to Canada — a country that “emphasizes social justice” — and his decade-long absence has not displaced his attachment. “I have a stake in the kind of country I want Canada to be,” said Frank, who served in the Canadian military and was a Governor-General’s Award winner.
The rule denying the vote to Canadians outside the country for more than five years was enacted in 1993 amid debate about the strength of their ties to Canada and how well informed they are about the domestic political situation. However, it was only in 2007 that Elections Canada began to enforce the rule to “more clearly reflect the intention of Parliament,” said spokesman John Enright. Until then, the five-year clock would reset for expats who returned even for short visits. Now, they have to “resume residency” before leaving again to regain their right to vote abroad.