The right of long-term expats to vote in federal elections goes before Ontario’s top court Tuesday, as Ottawa fights a ruling that struck down part of Canadian voting laws. Barring Canadians from voting — in this case, those who have lived abroad for more than five years — is a justified restriction in a free and democratic society, the government argues. “The residence limit to voting ensures the connection of the citizen to the place where he or she casts their vote,” the government states in its factum. “That is the social contract at the heart of our system of constitutional democracy.” In May last year, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Penny ruled that parts of the Canada Elections Act — which became law in 1993 — were unconstitutional.
In doing so, he extended the vote to as many as one million Canadians living abroad — even though a sliver of that number would likely vote in, for example, this year’s federal election. For one thing, Penny ruled, expats may well be subject to Canadian tax and other laws. In addition, mass murderers have the right to vote, the judge noted, but not long-term expats who “care deeply” about Canada.
Ottawa, which sought unsuccessfully to stay the ruling ahead of last June’s byelections, insists non-resident Canadians must have a “direct and meaningful” connection to Canada and their ridings in order to vote. Therefore, it began enforcing the five-year rule under which long-term expats could regain the right to vote only by resuming residency in Canada — not by just visiting.