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Fair Elections Act ID rules block voting, groups argue in court challenge

July 03, 2015

CBC News covered the arguments made in the first day of a two-day hearing in which the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students are asking the Ontario Superior Court for an injunction to prevent certain elements of the so-called “Fair Elections Act” from coming into effect.

The groups have filed an application alleging that the impugned provisions of the Act are unconstitutional because they will disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters, particularly students, the homeless, First Nations people and the elderly. Since the application is unlikely to be heard and determined prior to the next general federal election in October, the groups are seeking an injunction to prevent the operation of the provisions until the case has concluded.

Steven Shrybman set out the applicants’ case during the first day of the hearing on July 2nd. As the CBC reports, persons who have a valid driver’s licence, and who are living at the address on the licence, should not have any problems proving their identity at the polling station. However, the impugned provisions disallow use of the voter information card as proof of identification to vote and create a much more onerous vouching system. As Shrybman told the Court:

“…we know that 15 per cent of Canadian voters don’t have driver’s licences, and that’s 20 per cent among young voters.”

Changes to the act, he contends, will make it difficult to vote for those who move during an election (an estimated 250,000), those who used the voter identification card in the 2011 election (400,000), and those who used vouching in 2011 (120,000).

Shrybman told Judge David Stinson that his expert, former B.C. chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld, believes a third of those, roughly 250,000, will not be able to vote in the upcoming election.

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Steven Shrybman and Louis Century with the COC and CFS team

The case will continue on Friday, July 3rd, with the Attorney General setting out the Government’s case. The Government has maintained that the changes are necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, there is no evidence that the manner in which individual voters have been able to  prove their identity has resulted in election fraud. A claim made by a Conservative MP that he personally witnessed individuals collective discarded voter information cards with the intention of committing electoral fraud was found to be untrue.

The “Fair Elections Act” was passed following the last federal election during which, as found by the Federal Court, a concerted voter suppression campaign occurred. The Federal Court concluded that the voter contact information used to carry it out that campaign likely came from the Conservative Party’s database. The Court also found that the Conservative Party “made little effort to assist with the investigation” and that “the respondent MPs engaged in trench warfare in an effort to prevent this case from coming to a hearing on the merits.”

Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians, summarized the first day of the proceedings here.

Vice also reported on the proceedings:  Canadians Seek to Halt Fair Elections Act, Compare It to Voter Suppression in the US.

Lawyers

Steven Shrybman, Louis Century

Practice Areas

Public Interest Litigation