Two Canadians who are challenging a law that strips voting rights from expatriates who have lived abroad for more than five years expect their case to be heard in court this week. Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, who live in the U.S., were shocked to learn of the five-year rule when they tried to cast their ballots in the 2011 federal election. In an effort to combat what they see as an affront on their citizenship, the pair launched a legal challenge against the federal government nearly two years ago, arguing the rule in the Canada Elections Act is arbitrary, unreasonable and should be struck down as unconstitutional. “Having a say in the government, having my full citizenship reinstated is absolutely vital to me,” Frank told The Canadian Press in an interview ahead of the three-day hearing, which begins Monday in Ontario Superior Court. “I believe the Canadian government continues to affect me and it will affect me when I return home one day.” Frank, a history professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, moved to the U.S. in 2001 to get his PhD and stayed on as his studies led to a job.
Despite living in the States for years, the 35-year-old, who grew up in Toronto and served in the Canadian military, said he has “deep ties” to Canada. He follows Canadian news closely, visits regularly and plans to move back when he can find a suitable job. “I’ve applied to every Canadian job available in my field but there’s been less than 10 of those,” said Frank. “The moment there’s a job in Canada that I get in my career I would snatch it.”
The federal government has argued the current law helps strike a balance. “The five-year rule was established as a way to balance the democratic rights of Canadians while ensuring sufficient ties exist between a citizen and Canada, as well as the citizen’s intention to eventually return to Canada,” said a spokeswoman for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
The rule was originally enacted in 1993 amid debate about the strength of expatriates’ ties to Canada and how well informed they were about the domestic political situation. However, it was only in 2007 that Elections Canada began to enforce the rule.