Who has the right to vote? Section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms appears to give a clear enough answer by stating that “every citizen has the right to vote.” The Canada Elections Act, however, currently provides that citizens who have lived abroad for more than five years are not permitted to vote. This limit was defended by the previous government as demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, therefore constitutional. The tension between the legislation and the Charter has led to litigation by non-resident citizens going before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Liberal government has pre-empted the need for a judicial decision by tabling legislation that will ensure that the Charter right is not infringed. The proposed legislation will allow any Canadian citizen who is resident outside Canada to vote, no matter how long they have been outside the country. This is a welcome legislative intervention. It reveals a sound appreciation of the depth of the bond between the citizen and the state and augurs well for those concerned about the health of our democracy.
Some ostensibly strong arguments have been crafted in defence of the current limitations on the right to vote. It is alleged that those who remain outside the country for a lengthy period lack commitment to this country and therefore should forfeit the right to participate in its elections. It is also maintained that by living outside the country, individuals have placed themselves beyond the ordinary jurisdiction of the law. Because they are not subject to Canadian legal obligations (which usually end at geographical borders), they should not have a voice in determining the nature of these obligations.
Furthermore, non-residents do not usually pay Canadian taxes. It’s an ironic twist on the rallying cry of the American Revolution: No representation without taxation.
Full Article: The right to vote belongs to every Canadian — everywhere.