9 voices on the Supreme Court election ruling
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Conservative MP Ted Opitz will not lose his seat, overturning a lower court ruling that had thrown out the 2011 federal election result in Etobicoke Centre.
An Ontario judge had ruled in May that there were sufficient irregularities around missing paperwork and improperly registered voters at polling stations in the Toronto riding to discard 79 ballots, negating Opitz's 26-vote margin over Liberal Borys Wrzewsnewskyj.
But in a split decision, the Supreme Court found reason to reinstate 59 of those ballots — enough for Opitz's election to stand. The majority decision argued the entitlement to vote cannot be annulled due to procedural errors and that there was a lack of evidence that most of the discarded ballots came from voters who were not qualified to vote.
The dissenting judges, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, argued procedural errors are a concern, and that counting ballots from voters who were not properly registered is unfair to other voters who were turned away for not having proper identification.
Here's what some are saying about Thursday's ruling:
"I thank the court for its carefully reasoned decision. It is important to respect the will of the voters in Etobicoke Centre which was demonstrated by the result of the election. As the court decision confirmed, a fair election took place, the result was clear, was then confirmed on a recount and the result has now been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"Fifty-two thousand people in Etobicoke Centre followed the rules, cast their ballots and today had their democratic decision upheld."
— Etobicoke Centre MP Ted Opitz
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"I believe we've all won. Because this has shone a light not just on all the various problems that occurred during the last election campaign. Everyone's aware that there were a myriad of issues, there could have been thousands of Canadians that lost their right to vote.
"... The law is outdated. It needs updating. Technology has changed — technology has changed in a way that allows for micro-targeting within each riding and you couple that with a change in the political landscape, where there are political actors out there willing to do things that I don't believe people were willing to do in the past. And the combination of those two speak to the fact that it's time to update the laws."
— Defeated Liberal candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj
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"Obviously we'll always take a look at the law; you know we promised to look at some reforms to our election laws. But in this case, the important thing is it was the voters who made the decision. And that's the way a democracy is supposed to work."
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
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"The one concern from the CCLA's perspective is the court's accepting that the election laws can be unevenly applied and that is not of concern to the court. ... What the court decided was that it was okay, after the fact, to back into records and figure out if people who had not been vouched for or who had not produced ID nevertheless could have voted. And we said, well what happens to the people who came without ID and were turned away? Canadians expect that people are treated even-handedly whatever the laws are."
— Allison Thornton, lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was an intervener in the case
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"What the Supreme Court, in my view, based on my first reading of their judgment, is saying is that the constitutional right to vote is in essence primordial. And that if you're going to contest an election, the burden of proof is exceedingly high, not only must you prove that there were irregularities, you must be able to prove that people who were not entitled to vote actually did vote and that is not an easy burden to prove."
— Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Canada
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"I have confidence after this judgment that, by and large, at least from the majority's perspective, people [voting in Etobicoke Centre] were able to be indentified and I really think the emphasis of the majority that we should continue to have confidence in the elections system as we have it is important for us to keep in mind.
"...This case has nothing at all to do with fraudulent or corrupt practices, which are two concepts in the Elections Canada Act that come with serious criminal consequences, frankly. I really would not read much into this judgment as having anything to say about that."
— NDP Toronto-Danforth MP Craig Scott
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"We felt that we had to intervene in this case to ensure that we can protect the workers, the individuals who work collectively across Canada during an election process on a one-day basis to conduct the election poll, to ensure that if they make a minor mistake filling out a form, then an election will not be overturned as a result of that. And we're pleased to see that the majority decision of the courts says that as long as a valid elector has cast a ballot, a minor indiscretion in procedure on the part of the election officials will not overturn the election."
— Drew Westwater, spokesperson for the chief electoral officer of Alberta
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"I wasn't surprised that the court would not want to order a by-election in a case where the irregularities were not the result of fraud or bad intent. And I thought that the — what [the ruling] shows is that the majority is much more concerned with ensuring the right to vote for everyone, as opposed to really investigating very closely the process by which elections are administered. ... [The justices in the majority] were concerned about increasing what they called the margin of litigation in close elections and they were also concerned that when you have to maintain a balance between allowing people to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, but also maintaining some fidelity to the rules, we can't err too much on the side of a strict rule-bound approach."
— Carissima Mathem, University of Ottawa law professor
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"The Supreme Court in its majority has spoken. This issue is settled as far as the election result in Etobicoke Centre is concerned. We will all have a right still to our own opinions, just as Americans still have their own opinion about who won the election in the year 2000. There will always be lots of opinions about that."
— Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae