Ex­pats take vot­ing rights to Supreme Court

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Two Cana­di­ans stripped of the right to vote be­cause of their lengthy stay abroad are hop­ing the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case, their lawyer said Wed­nes­day.

Shaun O’Brien said last week’s split Ap­peal Court de­ci­sion af­firm­ing the vot­ing ban prompted an out­pour­ing of sup­port.

“There’s been a strong re­sponse,” O’Brien said in an in­ter­view.

“Peo­ple (have been) reach­ing out to us — ex­pats liv­ing around the world — who are very dis­ap­pointed and dis­mayed by the de­ci­sion, and who are urg­ing us to move for­ward and who are of­fer­ing their sup­port.”

Among those un­happy with los­ing their right to vote is vet­eran Cana­dian ac­tor Don­ald Suther­land, an Of­fi­cer of the Or­der of Canada, who wears his Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship on his sleeve.

In an opin­ion piece pub­lished in the Globe and Mail this week, Suther­land, 80, railed at the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment for dis­en­fran­chis­ing him and his wife be­cause they mostly live in the U.S. even though they stay in Canada when­ever they can.

“This Cana­dian gov­ern­ment … has fu­ri­ously pro­moted a law that de­nies its cit­i­zens around the world the right to vote,” Suther­land, most re­cently a star of the “Hunger Games,” said in his ar­ti­cle.

“Is it be­cause they’re afraid we’ll vote to re­turn to a gov­ern­ment that will once again rep­re­sent the val­ues that the rest of the world looked up to us for?”

Un­der changes to the Canada Elec­tions Act dat­ing to 1993, Cana­di­ans who live abroad for more than five years lose their right to vote.

How­ever, it was only in 2007 un­der Prime Min­is­ter’s Stephen Harper’s gov­ern­ment that strict en­force­ment be­gan and short-term vis­its to Canada were no longer deemed suf­fi­cient to re­set the five-year clock.

Two Cana­dian cit­i­zens liv­ing in the United States — Gil­lian Frank and Jamie Duong — ar­gued the five-year rule was ar­bi­trary and un­rea­son­able.

In May last year, Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice Michael Penny threw out the ban as un­con­sti­tu­tional, not­ing that mass mur­der­ers can vote but long-term ex­pats who care deeply about the coun­try can­not.

How­ever, the On­tario Court of Ap­peal over­turned Penny’s de­ci­sion and af­firmed the law, es­ti­mated to dis­en­fran­chise more than one mil­lion ex­pats.


Toronto lawyer Shaun O'Brien, rep­re­sent­ing ex­pat Cana­di­ans, is seen out­side the On­tario Court of Ap­peal on Fri­day, June 20, 2014.

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