Court orders Elections Canada to review moving voting day over religious worries

OTTAWA — A Federal Court judge has ordered Canada’s chief electoral officer to take a second look at whether voting day this October needs to be moved because it falls on a Jewish holiday — and come up with a decision in a matter of days.

Election day can be no later than Oct. 21 under federal law, which this year falls on the Jewish holiday known as Shemini Atzeret, when observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign.

Elections Canada has been lobbied to move the date, but decided against it this close to the start of the election campaign.

At a court hearing last week, complainants argued chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault’s decision was unreasonable.

Justice Ann Marie McDonald’s decision on Tuesday, days after a hearing, said there was a “lack of evidence” that Perrault balanced the infringement on the charter rights of affected voters against the objectives of the election law.

McDonald ordered Perrault to review his decision and strike that balance, and to do so by Aug. 1.

Elections Canada said it is reviewing the court decision.

Under federal law, the chief electoral officer can only make a recommendation to cabinet. He doesn’t have the unilateral ability to move the election date.

In early June, Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is running in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and Ira Walfish, a voter in nearby York Centre, asked the Federal Court to intervene, on the grounds Elections Canada failed to take their concerns seriously.

They also argued that scheduled advance polling days are problematic. Three out of four advance voting days — which are held on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday the week before election day — fall on dates when observant Jews wouldn’t be able to vote.

The confluence of dates “dramatically restricts” the ability of observant Jews across the country to vote and “fully participate in our democracy,” Liberal MP Michael Levitt wrote in a letter to Perrault in mid-April.

Levitt, who represents York Centre, asked Perrault at the time to reconsider the date of the vote because it conflicted with a religious observance.

“Religiously observant Jewish Canadians are entitled to equality under the law. Their religion should not be a barrier,” Levitt wrote on Twitter last week.

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