Canada

Electoral officer says he won't 'juggle' fundamental rights over veil issue

Canada's chief electoral officer said he will not use his discretionary powers to change the rules and force veiled women to show their faces in upcoming elections, saying it's not his job to "juggle" fundamental rights.

Canada's chief electoral officer said he will not use his discretionary powers to change the rules and force veiled women to show their faces in upcoming elections, saying it's not his job to "juggle" fundamental rights.

Marc Mayrand made the comments as he was questioned by members of Parliament before the procedure and house affairs committee Thursday morning.

Mayrand said those powers are only to be used in exceptional circumstances, and he does not consider veiled voting an exceptional circumstance.

"You have the power for veiled women to remove their veil … but you're suggesting you do not wish to exercise that authority that you have and I'm wondering why," asked Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski.

"Fundamental reason is that this authority … I believe is designed much more for operational matters as opposed to dealing with some fundamental rights protected by the Charter, including the right to vote and freedom of religion," Mayrand responded."And I think it's not up to an administrator of the electoral system to juggle those rights."

Askedwhether he would use those powers if directed to do so by the committee, Mayrand said he wouldn't, because it would require him to "offend the act and not uphold the law."

Mayrand was asked to appear before the committeeafter reporters began asking Elections Canada about the issue of face coverings and next Monday's federal byelections in three Quebec ridings.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he "profoundly disagrees" with an Elections Canada decisionto allow Muslim women to vote with their faces covered by burkas or niqabs.

But Mayrand has said the act does not contain an absolute visual recognition requirement, noting that about 80,000 voters cast their ballots by mail in the last federal election.

Veiled voters who only present one piece of governmentphoto ID — the most basicstandard of voter identification — at polling stations will be asked, but not required, to show their faces, he said.

If they decline to do so, he said, the votersmustchoose one of two other means of identifying themselves,neither of which requires photo identification, as stated in the Canada Elections Act.

Lukiwski also grilled Mayrand about a committee vote that Lukiwski said was clear about veils being removed by voters.

But Mayrand said a committee vote is not the same as an act of Parliament, and that he isunder noobligation to move on the committee's recommendation.

With files from the Canadian Press

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