There are an estimated 2.8 million Canadian expats living around the world. Now, roughly half of these individuals are to be banned from voting federally after a recent Court of Appeal decision.
It is the latest episode in an ongoing saga which has seen the law swing first one way and then another for Canada’s many expats. In the recent past a constitutional challenge, approved by Superior Court Justice Michael Penny, allowed Canadian expats to vote once more on how Canada would be governed in the future. Hundreds of Canadians around the world who maintain close ties to their country of origin applauded their win.
However it now seems that the party has been cut short – and last years’ decision has now been overturned once more by the Court of Appeal, Canada’s most senior court.
The change of heart was ideological, with disagreements and misunderstandings being clarified. The voting ban in the past was over-ruled when it was noted that convicted criminals could still vote on constitutional matters while law-abiding citizens living overseas were not.
However the latest u-turn comes after another ideological discussion – namely that of the “social contract”. Justice George Strathy of the Court of Appeal explained that Canadian citizens have a say in the laws by which they must abide. As a result it is right and proper that Canadian expats not be allowed to vote as they would not have to adhere to the laws set.
It should be noted that the latest change in expat voting rights applies only to those Canadians that have lived overseas for five years or more, meaning that many Canadian expats will still be entitled to vote.
Furthermore returning to Canada – even for a short time – “resets the clock”. Expats that have been away for 5 years or more may therefore re-establish their voting rights on returning home.
In addition to this there are a number of exceptions. Those working as public servants, or within the military, will still retain their voting rights irrespective of their time away from Canada.
While over a million expats are likely to be impacted by the change, it has been suggested that the vast majority of these expats choose not to vote anyway. Less than 6,000 voters will actually be affected by the change if official records are to be believed.
It is a highly emotive subject, with expats on both sides of the divide. For some, the fact that they still pay taxes in Canada is seen an enough to allow voting rights. Others claim they are still closely tied emotionally to Canada and have only moved away due to their education or careers.
Sadly, it seems that the die has been cast now. Canadians living overseas for five years or more will need to return home if they are to have an input in how the Canadian constitution is shaped.