Democracy has its day in court
“This case is about the right to vote – the cornerstone of democracy.”
With these words lawyer Steven Shrybman opened hearings against the Harper Conservatives’ so-called “Fair” Elections Act. The Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students and three individual electors are seeking an injunction to stop regressive new voter ID rules from coming into effect for October’s federal election.
Shrybman presented powerful evidence that, if allowed to stand, shows how the so-called Fair Elections Act would cause “irreparable harm” in the 2015 election and beyond. Citing expert testimony, he argued that tens of thousands of eligible voters – mostly students, aboriginals, seniors and the homeless – would have their constitutional right to vote taken from them under the Conservatives’ new rules.
But the harm extends beyond even those individual voters. This is about the integrity of our democracy and the legitimacy of our government. “Public confidence in the outcome of the election may hang in the balance,” Shrybman argued.
The hearings focused on the Conservatives’ move to eliminate the voter information card as a valid form of identification. In 2011, 400,000 people used voter information cards as official ID on Election Day – including 62 per cent of students who had the option.
Shrybman illustrated how there are very few forms of ID other than a driver’s licence that have your address on it. For example, a student living off campus whose name isn't on the lease or a bill is unlikely to have ID with their address on it, which would make it very difficult for them to vote in October.
Elections Canada has 25 million voter information card templates currently sitting in storage facilities around the country and ready to go for the upcoming federal election. And the Chief Electoral Officer confirmed that if the injunction is granted, he will recognize them as valid ID at polling stations.
Restoring the voter information card as valid ID is not only doable, it’s what’s truly fair.
Meanwhile, the Conservative government’s defence relied on unfounded claims that stricter voter ID rules are needed to stop fraud at the polls – a claim that has been soundly debunked by election experts like Harry Neufeld, who served as B.C.'s chief electoral officer and a consultant with Elections Canada.
As has been their legal strategy throughout this constitutional challenge, government lawyers once again attempted – and failed – to undermine the credibility of expert witnesses, rather than counter their testimony. They also used outdated reports and isolated irregularities to try to manufacture widespread problems with the program.
At the end of the day, the Harper government’s defence boiled down to this: It’s not the government’s job to make voting easier.
And that’s where they’re wrong.
Not only does such a callous and disturbing statement reveal their contempt for true democracy, it misses the heart of the matter. This isn’t about making voting easier. It’s about making voting fair – truly fair.
This injunction comes down to two simple facts: Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote. And it’s our government's responsibility to protect, not to interfere with, that right.
A decision on the injunction is expected by July 20.
Without the generous support of people like you, this vital legal action would not be possible. Together, we are standing up to protect the right to vote as the true cornerstone of our democracy.
With hope and resolve,