Harper’s “anti-democratic” Fair Elections Act challenged in court
As the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students promised in September, Canadian democracy had its day in court on Thursday.
In a case that’s likely to impact the much-anticipated 2015 federal election, the two organizations and three individual electors jointly filed a Charter challenge to the Conservatives’ “anti-democratic” Fair Elections Act in the Ontario Superior Court.
The Conservatives rammed the Fair Elections Act or Bill C-23 through parliament earlier this year amidst widespread public criticism. The bill made numerous changes Canada’s election laws.
“The measures being challenged are profoundly anti-democratic,” said Garry Neil, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians.
According to Maude Barlow, the chairperson of the Council of Canadians, Bill C-23 was challenged on the grounds that it will:
- Disenfranchise upwards of 100,000 eligible voters – mostly students, seniors and First Nations – by making it impossible for them to prove their address or identity in order to cast their ballot in the 2015 federal election.
- Strip the Chief Electoral Officer of her/his independence and power to both investigate fraud – like the robocall scandal – and communicate such activities to Parliament and the Canadian public.
- Expose the Commissioner of Canada Elections to partisan interference by making her/him accountable to the government, rather than to Parliament.
Barlow added: “It’s critical that we present the strongest argument possible if we’re to successfully strike down these anti-democratic sections of the act before the upcoming 2015 federal election.”
A statement issued by the Council of Canadians said these changes impede on Canadians’ right to vote in federal elections. That’s the argument their lawyer, Steven Shrybman from the firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, will argue. The lawyer will also argue that the changes violate equality rights as guaranteed by Sections 3 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 3 of the Charter guarantees democratic rights. It states that “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”
Section 15 of the Charter states: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
You can access a summary of the Constitutional Challenge to Bill 23 right HERE:
The challenge follows a recent Ontario Superior Court ruling in the case of Michael Sona, who was convicted of participating in the widespread election fraud that took place during the 2011 federal election. The case revealed that Sona, a former Conservative operative, did not act alone. In a 2013 ruling, the Federal Court found that “there was an orchestrated effort to suppress votes during the 2011 election campaign by a person with access to the [Conservative Party’s] CIMS database.”
Neil said: “The Federal Court has found there was a ‘deliberate attempt at voter suppression during the 2011 election […] targeted towards voters who had previously expressed a preference for an opposition party.’ Now, the government has legislated rules that will make it impossible for certain citizens to exercise their right to vote and next to impossible for citizens to challenge election results that may have been fraudulently obtained.”
The challengers’ statement said the Fair Elections Act’s restrictions “will particularly affect youth, members of First Nations living on reserves, seniors, and people with low incomes.” The statement points to Elections Canada statistics which indicate that voter turnout in federal elections has plummeted 60 per cent. The turnout for Canadian youth is only 38 per cent.
“Canadian youth and students are already disengaging from democratic processes they often regard as inaccessible and unaccountable,” says Jessica McCormick, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “This Act constructs additional barriers between young Canadians and their right to vote.”
The application will likely be heard by the Court early next year.
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