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Expats Will Get Chance To Win Back Voting Rights In Supreme Court Hearing

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OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal over the voting rights of expat Canadians who are currently prevented from casting federal ballots.

The case is led by Gillian Frank, a former Canadian Forces member from Toronto who has lived in the United States since 2001 and teaches at Princeton University, and Jamie Duong, who left Montreal for high school in Vermont and now works at Cornell University.

In 2014, they won the right to vote after the Ontario Superior Court ruled it was unconstitutional to prevent Canadians, who have been away from the country for more than five years, from voting.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein."

The court's decision meant one million expats would have the right to vote in the 2015 federal election.

But, the Conservative government appealed that ruling. And in 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal sided with the government in a two-to-one decision.

Vote for expats would be unfair

Ontario’s top court said that extending the right to vote in federal elections to non-residents would be unfair since it would give them the power to affect the lives of people actually living in Canada with “no practical consequence for their own daily lives.”

“This would erode the social contract [between citizens and the state] and undermine the legitimacy of the laws,” wrote Ontario Chief Justice George Strathy.

Strathy said Frank and Duong had “voluntarily severed their connections with Canada in the pursuit of their own livelihoods.”

“We are very hopeful that the Supreme Court justices will consider the voting rights of expats Canadians and that we will have a chance for a more neutral body to consider carefully the constitutional issues involved.”
— Gillian Frank

Frank told The Huffington Post Canada at the time that the unjust decision reduced him to a “second-class citizen.”

On Thursday, he was jubilant over news of the Supreme Court hearing.

“I’m thrilled. I’m so thrilled,” he told HuffPost.

“We are very hopeful that the Supreme Court justices will consider the voting rights of expats Canadians and that we will have a chance for a more neutral body to consider carefully the constitutional issues involved.”

Case could be heard this year

Two of the justices on the Ontario Court of Appeal were appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, he noted.

Frank and Duong called on the new Liberal government to stand by an election promise to support voting rights of Canadians and urged them not to defend the current voting ban.

During the election, Liberal party president Anna Gainey wrote to The Canadian Expat Association telling them the Grits believe that "all Canadians should have a right to vote, no matter where they live, and we are committed to ensuring that this is the case."

Frank said he expects the case will be heard late this year or early in 2017.

The Supreme Court, as is customary, gave no reasons for deciding to hear the case.

With previous files and a file from The Canadian Press

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