Barring expatriate Canadians from voting in federal elections is rooted in bygone days of horses and buggies and violates Canada’s modern constitution, says the Supreme Court, which on Friday ensured a lasting franchise for long-term non-residents. Two Canadians working in the United States, Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, challenged federal voting restrictions after they were unable to vote in the federal election of 2011. At the time, the law said non-resident citizens could not vote if they had lived more than five years abroad.
In a 5-2 ruling, the court said a law taking away the vote from Canadians living abroad long-term violates the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Liberal government repealed that voting bar last month, but the Supreme Court ruling lays down the law to any future government. And an opt-out clause in the Charter that allows governments to override a court ruling does not apply to the right to vote.
Chief Justice Richard Wagner, writing for four judges in the majority (a fifth wrote separate reasons), said that residency restrictions on voting date from a time when the franchise belonged to male property owners, travel was difficult and citizens tended to spend their lives in one place.
Today, travel, the internet and a globalized economy have altered everything. “In sum, the world has changed,” he wrote. “Canadians are both able and encouraged to live abroad, but they maintain close connections with Canada in doing so.” He added that “citizenship, not residence, defines our political community and underpins the right to vote.”