While the courts are making it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote, the federal government seems committed to making it harder. The Fair Elections Act elicited unprecedented condemnation for restricting access to the ballot box. The government has now introduced the Citizen Voting Act, after a court granted the right to vote to some Canadians living outside the country. The Act puts in place rules on how non-resident Canadians can exercise their constitutional right. These rules are so onerous that they will effectively prevent voting by many non-residents. The implications for the more than one million Canadians of voting age who live out of the country deserve close scrutiny.
Since 1993, the Elections Act has banned Canadian citizens living out of the country for five years or more from voting in federal elections. This past May in Frank v. Canada, the Ontario Superior Court struck down this rule as unconstitutional for violating the right to vote in section 3 of the Charter. Frank is significant for ending discrimination against Canadian citizens because of where they live.
The ruling followed closely the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Sauvé v. Canada. In Sauvé, the Supreme Court found that banning prisoners from voting was unconstitutional and could not be justified under the Charter. Sauvé stands as an uncompromising defence of the right to vote for all citizens. Canadian history has sadly been marred by the disenfranchisement of Aboriginal peoples, women, and Asian Canadians among others. The Supreme Court in Sauvé made it clear such restrictions would not be tolerated in the Charter era.