Court makes right move on voting rights for expats
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of voting rights for Canadian expats, which Canada has never had fully.
This is a positive development for the fundamental democratic rights of Canadian citizens, regardless of where they live, and shouldn’t be, nor is in reality, a partisan issue.
Prior to 1993, only members of the Canadian Armed Forces and government employees were permitted to vote from abroad. Then-prime minister Jean Chrétien loosened this restriction, allowing all citizens who’ve lived abroad for fewer than five years to participate in our democratic process.
This wasn’t strictly enforced until Stephen Harper came to power, which led to this Charter challenge from Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong — two professors at U.S. universities who weren’t allowed to vote in 2011. As the Supreme Court reasoned in its 5-2 decision yesterday, ceasing to live in Canada doesn’t take away one’s Charter rights, slamming the ban for citizens who’ve lived abroad for five years or more as “arbitrary.” All Canadians should be allowed to vote in Canadian elections if they want to.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government passed Bill C-76 in the summer, which was intended to restore this fundamental right to Canadian expats. But the Supreme Court validated it and rightfully so.
Allowing ex-pats to vote is not a particularly controversial policy — the United States, even under ultranationalist President Donald Trump, permits it. If you have U.S. citizenship and have never lived in the U.S., you can still vote.
As Rhodes Scholar Yasmin Rafiei pointed out in the pages of yesterday’s Globe and Mail, allowing ex-pats the right to vote keeps them connected to developments in their country of origin, increasing the likelihood that they return and contribute to it.
True, as Postmedia columnist Brian Lilley pointed out, the U.S. also permits the death penalty. Would advocates for giving expats the right to vote support the death penalty? he asked.
But this isn’t simply a matter of “They do it, so it’s OK.” It’s a matter of the fundamental, inalienable rights of citizens to have input in the way the country they belong to, even if they haven’t resided there for a while.
There are many other aspects of U.S. political culture many Canadians would correctly find undesirable — materialized police forces, elected judges, an overemphasis on states’ rights.
However, when it comes to protecting the rights of its citizens abroad, the U.S. has got it right. Credit where credit is due.
Would many of these expats be more inclined to vote for the prime minister who restored their right to vote? Likely, but there are undoubtedly Conservative and NDP-oriented Canadians who live abroad.
And not all expats are living outside of Canada by choice. Many sought jobs abroad when they couldn’t at home and would return if they were able to.
But for those who automatically oppose anything the prime minister does, calling him a “globalist” and “traitor,” this policy is some red meat, facts be damned.
(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)