Long-term Canadian expats are set to find out on Friday whether a now-repealed 25-year-old law barring them from voting in federal elections was constitutional. The pending decision by the Supreme Court of Canada should settle a legal battle begun in earnest during the former Conservative government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, and which gained prominence in the election that brought the Liberals under Justin Trudeau to office. Observers said they would be watching to see whether the country’s top court might justify limits on a constitutionally guaranteed right that potentially affects more than one-million Canadians who live abroad.
“What makes this case so interesting is that the Constitution sets no limits on citizen’s voting rights, so does that mean legislatures get to impose one?” Toronto-based lawyer Andrew Bernstein said on Thursday. “Do the reasons why someone has moved make a difference? How strict will the court be when the government seeks to justify an infringement?”
While the Constitution guarantees all Canadian citizens the right to vote, Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more lost that right under provisions of the Canada Elections Act enacted in 1993. However, it was only under Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the provisions more strictly, prompting the court battle.