Overseas voters will have to prove citizenship, residency under new rules

The government has introduced legislation to tighten the rules for Canadians who want to cast a ballot while living outside the country.

Government says changes to the law will prevent 'riding shopping'

An Elections Canada worker assembles election materials packages in Ottawa in preparation for the next general election. Canadians living abroad who want to vote will have to prove their citizenship and where they last lived in Canada under proposed new rules. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The government has introduced legislation to tighten the rules for Canadians who want to cast a ballot while living outside the country.

Under the proposed new rules, anyone who wants to vote in a Canadian federal election while living abroad will have to provide proof of citizenship, as well as their most recent Canadian address, in order to receive a ballot.

This, according to the press release announcing the proposed new rules, will prevent "riding shopping."

The new requirements will not apply to those serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The chief electoral officer will also be authorized to cross-reference current voting list with citizenship and immigration data to purge non-Canadians from the voting list.

A government-issued backgrounder accompanying the bill notes that in Canada, voters "cannot pick and choose their riding," but are required to cast a ballot in the riding in which they live.

"By contrast, Canadians living abroad do not have to prove any past residence in the riding in which they vote," it notes.

"It is unfair to allow a person who has never lived in a community to vote on who will represent that community."

The bill was introduced by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre Wednesday afternoon. 

In a written statement, he said the new rules "will help ensure that only citizens vote, that their votes only count in their home ridings and that they show ID to prove both."

The bill also seems to be a response to a recent Federal Court ruling that upheld the right of Canadians abroad to vote in federal elections even after being out of the country for five years.

NDP, Liberals reviewing bill

NDP Democratic Reform Critic Craig Scott noted his colleague, Megan Leslie, has "long championed" voting rights for those outside Canada.

"We're pleased that the government appears to have finally decided to comply with the court ruling that found that it is unconstitutional to exclude any citizens living abroad from voting," Scott told CBC News.

"That said, by using the same problematic ID requirements the Conservatives put forward in their widely-denounced elections Bill C-23 … this new bill may turn out to result, in practice, in making it especially difficult for some citizens abroad to vote."

The NDP is analyzing the bill to determine whether such impacts are likely, he said.

The Liberals will also take some time to study the proposed changes before deciding whether or not to support the bill, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale told CBC News.

"We've learned from this government's previous machinations around election laws that it's wise to check the fine print two or three times to see what's really going on," he said.

"[They're] moving only because another court has told them they had defective legislation."

Given that context, he said, the Liberals will examine the bill "with care" to determine whether the proposed changes satisfy the court ruling.

"It's a shame that Canadians need to take their government to court to defend their right to vote."

Court struck down 5-year limit

In May, the Federal Court struck down the section of the Elections Act that denied voting rights to Canadian citizens who live abroad for longer than five years.

"The [government] essentially argues that allowing non-residents to vote is unfair to resident Canadians because resident Canadians live here and are, on a day-to-day basis, subject to Canada's laws and live with the consequences of Parliament's decisions," Ontario Supreme Court Justice Michael Penny wrote at the time.

"I do not find this argument persuasive," he added.

Mobile users: Read the full text of the Citizen Voting Act here


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