Fair Elections Act an affront to our democracy

In the last century, how many Canadians have fought, were injured or were killed, defending democracy and our right to vote for a democratically-elected government? In the last few years, how many people around the world have suffered, were tortured, and faced death so they can vote for a democratically-elected government?

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.”

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In the last century, how many Canadians have fought, were injured or were killed, defending democracy and our right to vote for a democratically-elected government?

In the last few years, how many people around the world have suffered, were tortured, and faced death so they can vote for a democratically-elected government?

How many dictatorships were installed by the free will of the people? Dictatorships do not happen overnight, it takes time and incremental steps and often a military coup helps, to suppress the rights of the people.

It has been said it arises when good people do nothing when bad people do evil. Will the good people stand idly by while their rights under the constitution are eroded by politicians in their quest for power or continuance in power?

The recent Fair Elections Act is a subterfuge of an act. It uses the pretense of good to do extreme bad, to help ensure the re-election of a government. If you cannot grow support among the people, you try to ensure that those who are most likely to oppose cannot vote. Profiling at its worse.

Some good people are not standing idly by while this evil is being imposed, but it will take more good people to help the upcoming victims.

Ontario Superior Court Justice David Stinson refused recently to suspend new voting rules for the October election means some Canadians will be turned away at the polls. Voters will have to abide by stricter rules to prove their identification, and some will find that difficult to do. The Superior Court judge stated that some voters will suffer “Irreparable harm.” The decision by Stinson not to suspend the new ID rules for the coming election means the federal government has a lot of work to do to make voters aware it’ll be harder to vote, so that they make sure they carry the right documents to the polls with them.

The new act denies Canadians of the ability to use as ID the voter-identification card Elections Canada sends out. And voters who have a tougher time proving their address — for example, First Nations people or students — will not be able to ask another voter to simply vouch for them. About 400,000 voters in the 2011 election used vouching. Though potential voters can attest to their address by signing an oath, and if they can get a valid voter to do the same, they’ll be given a ballot.

Making voting complicated to fix a problem that many people including chief electoral officers, say never existed is the Canadian government attempt at voter suppression. Voter turnout is decreasing, and many people do not see the importance of voting.

That’s why the Council of Canadians, students and others are challenging the constitutionality of many elements of the Fair Elections Act. That case is slowly making its way through the justice system, but in the meantime, they asked the Ontario court to suspend the ID rules for the October election. Justice Stinson refused, saying the matter required a fuller hearing on all evidence about the effects of the amendments. Since it cannot be dealt with before the October election in its entirety he refused suspending parts.

Indeed, the biggest voting scandal was the use of robocalls — automated calling services political parties use to contact voters. The 2011 election became famous for “Robocalls” that told voters to go to the wrong poll. It was reported in many ridings but charges were laid only in one. Michael Sona, a former Conservative staffer convicted in the 2011 robocalls scandal, was sentenced to nine months behind bars and one year’s probation for what Justice Gary Hearn called “an affront to the electoral process.”

Interfering with a citizen’s right to vote merits real jail time, an Ontario judge declared when he made Sona the first person to spend time behind bars for violating the Canada Elections Act.

The robocall affair made the case for some necessary changes to the Elections Act — the rules around automated calling of voters mean parties will have to keep better records when they use such services — but this government went too far.

It has been shown repeatedly that investigations into complaints and allegations of tampering were hampered because the commissioner of elections cannot compel people to answer questions in those investigations. The robocall matter was a prime example of this, as it dragged on, unnecessarily, because many in the federal Conservative party refused to co-operate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to give the commissioner these powers, despite the fact the provincial counterparts have them at their disposal. Instead, the government tightened Elections Canada’s ability to speak directly to Canadians: the office is forbidden to encourage voters to exercise their franchise, for example.

We do not have to risk life and limb, leave our families to protect our democratic rights but we do need to talk to others who may be victimized by this act. It is the least we can do.

Garfield Marks

Red Deer

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