“[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper was putting through a proposal that would forbid people with no fixed address the right to vote,” says Victoria Megaphone vendor and noted anti-poverty activist Rose Henry.
As the federal election looms, voters raise questions on ID laws
If you’re a Canadian citizen and at least 18, it’s your constitutional right to votein the October 19th federal election. But putting that right into practice will be tricky if you don’t have proper identification.
Last year’s Fair Elections Act made several changes to the way federal elections are run. The Act requires voters to present two pieces of ID, at least one with their permanent address. It also places limits on citizens’ ability to vouch for their peers without proper ID.
Until 2007, we didn’t need ID at all if we were on the registered voters’ list or if we had our voter identification card. Those on the list could vouch for the identity of several others. It used to be common practice for First Nations’ chiefs to spend Election Day at a polling station to vouch for the whole community, for example.
But in the last eight years, the Conservative government has proposed and passed changes to the federal elections act 10 different times, including restrictionson vouching and acceptable voter IDs passed last year. Designed to protect us from fraud, these laws could prevent people without a home—or those livingfar from it—from casting their ballot.
That’s what Rose Henry believes.Henry, a well-known Victoria anti-poverty advocate and Megaphone vendor, has been helping low-income people vote for over20 years. She fought the 2007 Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act at the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2008.
“[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper was putting through a proposal that would forbid people with no fixed address the right to vote,” Rose recalls. That law restricted vouching to one person per registeredvoter. It also required identification that stated a permanent address.
The judge agreed the Act could run roughshod over voters’ constitutional rights. But because someone else could vouch for them, the new rules stayed. The ruling was upheld on appeal.
Ironically members of the Council of Canadians, which has partnered with the Canadian Federation of Students to challenge the Fair Elections Act in Ontario Superior Court later this year, speculate the Henry case could be the final nail in the coffin for the Fair Elections Act.
“The B.C. court pointed to vouching as a kind of fail-safe mechanism for people who otherwise have difficulty in proving their identity and/or their place of residence,” says Garry Neil, the Council’s executive director.
Unlike the Act Henry fought, the Fair Elections Act limits registered voters to vouching only for another person’s address, not their identity.
Without ID to prove who you are, you can’t vote, potentially excluding people livingon reserves, in shelters, or without photo ID.
And if you can only find one voucher for you and your partner, for example, you better flip a coin because vouching was limited to one vouch per voter back in 2007.
Since the case won’t be heard until after Election Day, the Council filed an injunction to put the new rules on hold until the 2019 election. Neil argues it only takes a fraction of people turned away at the polls to turn an election, pointing to the last federal election as an example.
“The reasons the Conservatives have a majority government is if you take the final few ridings in which they won to get their majority, it’s like a 6,000-vote difference,” he says.
But even if the injunction, scheduled for July 2-3, should fail, Neil says “the results of the next election could be [called into] question,” potentially pushing the case in the Council’s favour.
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