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  • Marty Gold

Winnipeg 2012 proposal wasn't the last time Jews had to defend voting rights - why not?

In 2012 a number of ideas were raised through the Governance Committee at Winnipeg City Hall, about various election rules and procedures.

Some were out of nowhere, like having 16 and 17 year olds work at polling stations. Other proposals floated were about giving a ballot to people who had only lived in the city for 60 days, restricting third-party advertising, and other matters. 

What caught my attention, to the point I spoke at both the Executive Policy Committee and City Council as the policy evolved, was a proposal that would affect the voting rights of Jewish electors: changing the City Charter to fix elections to be conducted on a Saturday or Sunday in October, instead of the traditional mid-week vote.

Here is what I said on May 30, 2012 to a city council that included a Jewish Mayor, Sam Katz, and two Jewish councilors,  John Orlikow and Jenny Gerbasi:  

"I am disappointed that when this returned from the Governance Committee, there was no comment that I could see anywhere in the report with regards to the issues that are raised with members of the Jewish community that are observant who are prohibited from marking a ballot using a pen or a pencil on Saturdays. 

And towards the end of October the Jewish Sabbath would not end until around 6:00 p.m., those that might go to synagogue would then return, they would have perhaps have one hour to be able to attend a ballot box and there are individuals such as myself who prefer to vote really, as late as election day, see what comes up in the news, see what comes up in social media, see what comes up if council candidates come knocking at your door. 

And I don't think that it's a healthy idea to put Orthodox Jews in particular, into a position where they might feel compelled to have to attend in advance voting polls, etc. ... I would like to see some sensitivity on the part of Council with regards to that issue."

This all seemed common-sensical to me and Winnipeg council agreed and spiked the idea. That common sense however, seemingly escaped our federal Chief Electoral Officer who disregard the unfairness of this years' fixed date falling on a Jewish High Holiday (Shemeni Atzeret) or that advance polls also fall on Sabbath and adjacent Succot high holidays.

The Act gives Stéphane Perrault the authority to switch an election date for exactly that reason.  

A Charter rights lawsuit is being heard Tuesday in Toronto brought by Chani Aryeh-Bain, an Orthodox Jewish candidate for the Conservative Party in Eglington- Lawrence, and an Orthodox voter in York Centre, Ira Walfish. 

 "(Bain) will not be able to campaign on election day. She will not be able to instruct others to campaign on her behalf. She will also be prohibited from encouraging other Jews to vote for her on election day or on two of the four advance polling dates.” The suit stipulates that approximately 75,000 people identify as Orthodox Jews out of 392,000 Jewish Canadians.

The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada has been granted intervener status. Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said “It is imperative that Elections Canada not allow a situation to develop in which a significant swathe of the population find themselves unable to exercise their most basic democratic freedoms."

I thought the fact this concept had gotten to the point of a Council vote in Winnipeg was a bit of a fluke. I stood up for voters and made my case.

The opposition of the Chief Electoral Officer to revising the date of the national election, despite being asked well within the time limits in the Act to do so, is no fluke.  It's mean-spirited and contrary to the express will of the legislation.

Elections Canada informs that "As of 2014, the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed for a 10-year non-renewable term. He or she can be removed only for cause, by the Governor General, following a joint address of the House of Commons and Senate." A new Parliament should consider if his refusal to uphold the rights of Jewish voters meets that threshhold.

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