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MONTREAL — A ban on long-term expatriates voting from abroad has drawn the ire of Canadian business groups in Asia, who argue the measure runs contrary to both their rights and the country's interests. In an open letter decrying the rule, the five groups based in Asia call on members of Parliament and Canadians to help their cause. Their appeal, which comes as Canada attempts to close an important Pacific trade deal, carries the signatures of Canadian chamber of commerce members in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan under the heading, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Really? "We, the undersigned, represent not only business and trade interests, but organizations committed to enlarging Canadians' and Canada's presence internationally," the writers state in the letter obtained by The Canadian Press. "As such, we believe the right to vote is a fundamental, if not the fundamental, right underpinning Canadian democratic values." Under part of the Canada Elections Act enacted in 1993, Canadians abroad for more than five years lost the right to vote from where they live. However, it is only under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the rule, catching many expats by surprise in 2011. The issue has become fodder for a constitutional challenge. An Ontario justice threw out the law last year, only to see the province's top court reinstate it in July. Two expats in the United States are now asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case. The question of expat voting rights bubbled to surface on the campaign trail recently when Harper stumped with hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who like many other Canadian celebrities would not be able to vote because he has lived abroad for years. The new letter notes that the appeal court, which upheld the law in a split decision, accepted government arguments that it is unfair to allow non-residents to vote on laws affecting people in Canada because the laws have "little to no practical consequences" for the daily lives of expats. The writers object to the ruling, citing an Asia Pacific Foundation report from 2011 that found Canadians who live abroad are "potentially a large asset" but policies relating to voting rights and citizenship discourage attachment. "We have members and networks of non-members who have committed years realizing Canadian public policy, strengthening economic ties and supporting Canada's place as a strong global competitor," the letter states. "We work for Canadian and international companies directly affected by Canadian laws, or for organizations making investments or carrying out operations in Canada." They also say members have property or investments that are taxed in Canada, or have relatives living in Canada, and most will return to live in Canada. Ultimately, they say, limiting their voting rights is out of step with emerging global trends and the need to foster a globally connected and effective diaspora of overseas citizens. Figures from 2006 indicate almost 10 per cent of Canada's population lived abroad. Latest estimates are that about 1.4 million have been abroad longer than five years. One expat who lives in Seattle has registered to run against Harper in the riding of Calgary Heritage to make a point about the voting ban.
In Photos: Canada Election 2015