A woman marks her ballot behind a privacy barrier in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, west of Montreal, on October 19, 2015. A Federal Court judge is ordering the 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

A woman marks her ballot behind a privacy barrier in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, west of Montreal, on October 19, 2015. A Federal Court judge is ordering the 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

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

Observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign on the current election day

Canada’s chief electoral officer is taking a second look at whether voting day this October needs to be moved because it falls on a Jewish holiday after being ordered by a Federal Court judge to 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. Observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign on that day.

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 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 do so by Aug. 1.

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.

“Elections Canada will act in a timely manner in accordance with the directions provided by the Court. I will make public my final decision as soon as possible,” Perrault said in a statement.

“Elections Canada remains committed to fostering meaningful opportunities for all Canadians to participate in the federal election.”

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, which the chief electoral officer is allowed to do under the election law.

“Very pleased to see decision by Federal Court recognizing implications of the fixed election date/advance polls falling on Jewish holidays and the impact on religiously observant Jewish Canadians,” Levitt wrote on Twitter in response to the decision.

Elections Canada had said that rather than recommend moving election day, it instead had instructed returning officers in ridings with large Jewish populations to conduct outreach and promote extended voting hours — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — at advance polls.

Simon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Elections Canada has taken significant measures to ensure every Jewish voter can cast a ballot.

“We will respect the Chief Electoral Officer’s decision and will continue working closely with Elections Canada to support its efforts to maximize voter participation and inclusion of the Jewish community – which is a cornerstone of democracy,” he said in a statement.

Aryeh-Bain, who observes the holiday, said Tuesday that she hopes Perrault would move the election date to allow her “to compete in this election on an equal footing.”

In a statement, B’nai Brith Canada noted that the scheduling conflict had attracted bipartisan concern, including from Liberal MPs Marco Mendicino, whom Aryeh-Bain is trying to unseat in Toronto, and Anthony Housefather of Montreal. Chief executive Michael Mostyn called the decision a “massive victory for the Canadian Jewish community.”

“The right to vote and run for office is one of the most fundamental rights in Canadian society, and the court was right to find that Elections Canada must give them proper consideration,” Mostyn said.

“We urge the chief electoral officer to act quickly and make the right decision.”

READ MORE: Trudeau’s former right-hand adviser playing role in Liberal election campaign

READ MORE: PM’s official residence becoming a costly ‘debacle,’ say Conservatives

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council asks for a mask bylaw to be brought forward for consideration

The bylaw would require face coverings in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities

The Sylvan Lake Food Bank with fully stocked shelves. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Food Bank to open for donations in lieu of Stuff-A-Bus

The annual stuff-a-bus event has been postponed until sometime in the new year

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

The Red Deer Games Foundation has made changes to its grant program as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo supplied)
Red Deer Games Foundation adjusts grant program due to COVID-19 pandemic

The foundation postponed the spring 2020 grant program due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

skip2
Rimbey Christian School students experience the joy of giving

Grades three and four students raised $2,000 for Somalian children

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Most Read