The voting rights of people in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre were trampled by simple record-keeping errors, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Tuesday. The decision to overturn Conservative MP Ted Opitz’s win in last year’s federal election disenfranchised all the voters whose ballots were thrown out, his lawyer said. “It’s hard to think that a constitutional right of this importance can hang by so fine a thread,” lawyer Kent Thomson told the court. Opitz won the riding by just 26 votes over Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj in last year’s federal election. But Wrzesnewskyj went to court, claiming procedural irregularities. Earlier this year, an Ontario Superior Court judge found that Elections Canada officials made clerical errors at the polls. After Justice Thomas Lederer threw out 79 votes and overturned the final result, Opitz appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
The top court is now hearing arguments from lawyers for Opitz and Wrzesnewskyj. The outcome of the case will determine whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper has to call a byelection in Etobicoke Centre. Only five other election results have been nullified by the courts since 1949. None of those rulings were appealed and byelections were quickly called to re-determine the will of the people in each riding.
The Etobicoke Centre result was overturned on the grounds that paperwork was not properly filled out for voters who needed someone to vouch for their identity or who were left off the list of electors. In his ruling, Lederer specifically stressed the irregularities were the result of clerical errors by well-meaning Elections Canada officials, not the product of fraud or intentional wrongdoing.