Court battle begins over McGill students' voting rights

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey is requesting an emergency injunction to allow five anglophone students the right to vote, after they were turned away by Quebec election officials.

Lawyer argues election officials are applying voter criteria in a discriminatory fashion

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey is requesting an emergency injunction to allow five McGill University students to vote in the 2014 Quebec election. (CBC)

The case of five McGill University students who were refused the right to vote in the Quebec election went before the court Thursday morning and should be decided on by Friday.

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey requested an emergency injunction to allow the students to vote because Thursday was the last day to make revisions to the list of electors before Quebecers go to the polls on Monday.

Because the students will only find out after the revision deadline whether they can vote or not, a legal mechanism could be used to permit them to vote in the event that the judge rules in their favour.

But the lawyer for the director general of elections argued that the revisors have some judicial and authoritative powers, and ruling against them could call into question the entire voter registration system. 

According to the student unions at McGill University and Concordia University, as many as 200 students have reported being told they weren't eligible to vote, and union representatives say they believe there could be many more unreported cases.

All five students in court this morning have been living in Quebec for at least eight months.

One of them was born in Quebec and moved back three years ago, another is in the process of incorporating a business in the province and another, Brandon Edge, is running as the registered candidate for the Green Party in the riding of Chomedey.

They were all turned down by revision officers, even though they brought birth certificates, passports, leases and even bank statements to prove they were eligible to vote.

Some were told they could not prove they intended to stay "long-term."

Quebec Green Party candidate Brendan Edge is one of five McGill University students who are taking legal action to fight for their right to vote in the 2014 Quebec election. (Facebook)

One was told his "roots were too strong" in Ontario.

Grey plans to argue that revision officers are applying the voter criteria in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.

He's asking that the judge order the students be added to the voters list.

In addition, he wants the judge to strike down the "domicile" requirement, if it cannot be interpreted fairly.

'The election of the domicile'

Quebec's "domicile" rule is at the heart of the debate over who can and can't vote in Quebec.

The Election Act's "domicile" rule requires voters to not only prove they have lived in Quebec for the past six months, but also that it's their primary residence and that they intend to stay. 

That presents a challenge for many anglophone students originally from outside Quebec, who still have their old drivers' licences and health cards — evidence that revision officer's rely on to prove an individual's domicile status.

The strict requirements have angered many anglophone voters, who despite living in Quebec for years, have been turned away.

The spokesman for the chief electoral office has even suggested the 2014 election will be remembered as the "election of the domicile."


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