A woman marks her ballot behind a privacy barrier in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, west of Montreal, on October 19, 2015. A Federal Court judge is ordering the chief electoral officer to take a second look at whether voting day this October needs to be moved because it falls on a Jewish holiday. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

Court orders Elections Canada to review moving voting day over religious worries

Observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign on the current election day

Canada’s chief electoral officer is taking a second look at whether voting day this October needs to be moved because it falls on a Jewish holiday after being ordered by a Federal Court judge to come up with a decision in a matter of days.

Election day can be no later than Oct. 21 under federal law, which this year falls on the Jewish holiday known as Shemini Atzeret. Observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign on that day.

Elections Canada has been lobbied to move the date, but decided against it this close to the start of the election campaign.

At a court hearing last week, complainants argued chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault’s decision was unreasonable.

Justice Ann Marie McDonald’s decision on Tuesday said there was a “lack of evidence” that Perrault balanced the infringement on the charter rights of affected voters against the objectives of the election law.

McDonald ordered Perrault to review his decision and strike that balance, and do so by Aug. 1.

Under federal law, the chief electoral officer can only make a recommendation to cabinet. He doesn’t have the unilateral ability to move the election date.

“Elections Canada will act in a timely manner in accordance with the directions provided by the Court. I will make public my final decision as soon as possible,” Perrault said in a statement.

“Elections Canada remains committed to fostering meaningful opportunities for all Canadians to participate in the federal election.”

In early June, Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is running in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and Ira Walfish, a voter in nearby York Centre, asked the Federal Court to intervene, on the grounds Elections Canada failed to take their concerns seriously.

They also argued that scheduled advance polling days are problematic. Three out of four advance voting days — which are held on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday the week before election day — fall on dates when observant Jews wouldn’t be able to vote.

The confluence of dates “dramatically restricts” the ability of observant Jews across the country to vote and “fully participate in our democracy,” Liberal MP Michael Levitt wrote in a letter to Perrault in mid-April.

Levitt, who represents York Centre, asked Perrault at the time to reconsider the date of the vote because it conflicted with a religious observance, which the chief electoral officer is allowed to do under the election law.

“Very pleased to see decision by Federal Court recognizing implications of the fixed election date/advance polls falling on Jewish holidays and the impact on religiously observant Jewish Canadians,” Levitt wrote on Twitter in response to the decision.

Elections Canada had said that rather than recommend moving election day, it instead had instructed returning officers in ridings with large Jewish populations to conduct outreach and promote extended voting hours — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — at advance polls.

Simon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Elections Canada has taken significant measures to ensure every Jewish voter can cast a ballot.

“We will respect the Chief Electoral Officer’s decision and will continue working closely with Elections Canada to support its efforts to maximize voter participation and inclusion of the Jewish community – which is a cornerstone of democracy,” he said in a statement.

Aryeh-Bain, who observes the holiday, said Tuesday that she hopes Perrault would move the election date to allow her “to compete in this election on an equal footing.”

In a statement, B’nai Brith Canada noted that the scheduling conflict had attracted bipartisan concern, including from Liberal MPs Marco Mendicino, whom Aryeh-Bain is trying to unseat in Toronto, and Anthony Housefather of Montreal. Chief executive Michael Mostyn called the decision a “massive victory for the Canadian Jewish community.”

“The right to vote and run for office is one of the most fundamental rights in Canadian society, and the court was right to find that Elections Canada must give them proper consideration,” Mostyn said.

“We urge the chief electoral officer to act quickly and make the right decision.”

READ MORE: Trudeau’s former right-hand adviser playing role in Liberal election campaign

READ MORE: PM’s official residence becoming a costly ‘debacle,’ say Conservatives

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cullen confirmed as B.C. NDP candidate for Stikine despite party’s equity policy

Former Tahltan Central Government President Annita McPhee said the process made her feel “abused”

Financial fallback plan in place for Mills Memorial replacement

That’s in case province rejects first submission

Local Skeena candidates for the Oct. 24 snap election

Current BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross will be running again, as will Nicole Halbauer for BC NDP

How to vote via mail-in ballot for the Oct. 24 election

Vote-by-mail is one of the ways being promoted to people for added safety during the pandemic

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

‘It’s a boy’: Southern Resident killer whale calf born to J Pod is healthy, researchers say

J35 had previously done a ‘Tour of Grief,’ carrying her dead calf for 17 days

People ‘disgusted’ by COVID-19 election call, B.C. Liberal leader says

Andrew Wilkinson speaks to municipal leaders from Victoria

Horgan blasts B.C. Greens for refusing youth overdose detention

Lack of support key to B.C. election call, NDP leader says

Most Read