Canadian expats campaigning for right to vote

by Ray Clancy on September 4, 2015

More than a million Canadian expats will not be able to vote in the country’s general election next month after a court overturned a challenge that would have allowed them to do so.

A legal challenge by two expats who had lived in the United States meant that the 1.4 million Canadian citizens who lived abroad would have been able to vote. But now the Appeal Court has overturned the ruling meaning that the previous rules will apply on voting day on 19 October.

canadaIt means that the five-year limit on expats voting remains after the court decided that it was reasonable and that to allow all expats to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis, but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives.

But expat groups have pledged to continue to campaign for a change. They believe that as immigration is a major issue in the election and the country as a whole, they should have a say.

Those opposed to all Canadians being able to vote argue that residents pay full taxes in Canada, are required to obey Canadian laws and therefore have both greater responsibilities and privileges than non-residents.

They also argue that expats may well have an interest in Canadian politics, but their taxes go to other governments and that of the estimated 2.8 million Canadians living abroad, only 6,000 actually cast a ballot in the last general election.

Public servants and members of the military posted overseas, and Canadian citizens who have lived abroad for less than five years, retain the right to vote in the general election.

Expats argue that it is wrong that mass murderers and other criminals can vote but long term expats who care deeply about the country cannot.

One of the most outspoken expats is actor Donald Sutherland who lived in Los Angeles.

“Americans who live abroad can vote. They can vote because they’re citizens. But I can’t. I am a Canadian. But I’m an expatriate and the Harper government won’t let expatriates participate in Canadian elections,” Sutherland has said when asked to comment on the issue.

Americans living outside of the country have the right to vote no matter how long they have been abroad, providing they pay taxes in the US. Expats from the UK can vote for 15 years after they leave, three times the limit in Canada.

Australian expats are allowed to vote so long as they intend to return to Australia within six years. After six years they can renew their status by making an annual declaration of their intention to return at some point, thereby voting for an indefinite period.

In New Zealand there is a three-year limit but that restarts every time citizens visit the country. Moreover, New Zealand extends the right to vote to non-citizen residents from other Commonwealth countries.

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