Canada’s top court is set to grapple with whether long-term expats should be allowed to vote, an issue that loomed large in the last federal election in which Justin Trudeau and his Liberals took office. Civil liberties groups, which argue current rules barring the expats from voting are unconstitutional, and Quebec, which supports the federal government’s defence of the restrictions, are among interveners in the closely watched case the Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear on Wednesday. Canadians lose the right to vote after living abroad for more than five years under rules on the books since 1993. However, it was only under the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the laws.
Two Canadians living and working in the United States launched the case after being denied the right to vote in the 2011 election. They argue that citizenship, not residency, is the key requisite for voting.
“One way or the other, this is going to get decided and either Canadians will be enfranchised or Canadians will be disenfranchised,” Jamie Duong, one of the appellants, said from Ithaca, N.Y.
Duong and Gill Frank, an academic in Princeton, N.J., initially won their case before Ontario Superior Court in 2014 but the government appealed. In a split decision in 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the restrictions do indeed infringe on the rights of citizens. However, the majority found the violation democratically justified because the rules preserve the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers.