Court makes right move on vot­ing rights for ex­pats

Medicine Hat News - - COMMENTS - Jeremy Ap­pel

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.)

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