I cannot vote in Monday's election. Together with 1.4 million of my fellow Canadian citizens I was stripped of that seemingly inalienable right with the passage of Bill C-50, the Citizen Voting Act. Later, Ontario Court of Appeals (OCA) reaffirmed the position stating that the right to vote belongs only "to those who would be most directly affected by the law."
The court focused on the duties of citizenship by trampling over the rights of citizenship. The court philosophized about the social contract of citizenship, but omitted any discussion of the duties of government towards its citizenry. The social contact was and is not intended to be a one-way street or relationship.
And, what of these duties of citizenship? There are many resident citizens who do not honour their social contract -- 39 per cent of eligible voters didn't vote in 2011. And yet, a significant segment of the citizenry that wants to vote and participate in the social contract are banned from doing so by our government and courts.
I've been living in Los Angeles for over 10 years. In July I even became a U.S. citizen. But through it all, I've remained Canadian by going to see my Leafs and Jays play, by supporting events at Canada House, and by hosting Canada Day and Canadian Thanksgiving events. I joined Canadians Abroad within weeks of arriving in the U.S., became a board member and now serve our Canadian expat community as President of the organization. No government and no court can trample on my Canadian-ness.
My Canadian identity permeates my personal and social life, but it is also a large part of my professional life as well since, as an immigration and entertainment attorney, most of my clients are Canadians who work in the U.S. or Americans who work in Canada. The laws of both countries impact my practice.
Of the Canadians, there's the actor who has the opportunity to work on a big U.S. network show. As an artist she straddle the border between two countries, working in both, but residing in LA to maintain her visa. She lives here but still pays taxes in Canada, and is still impacted by the CRTC and fiscal policies back home.
Then there's the scientist I recently consulted. He wants to work in Canada but, as he put it, the Canadian government "has systematically been dismantling the science infrastructure of our country." And so he works in the U.S. As a scientist, he wants his voice heard in how funding is allocated in his field in Canada. His voice matters.
Across the board, for my Canadian clients, and myself, the value of our Canadian passport is determined by every decision made by the Canadian government on foreign policy.
The Citizen Voting Act and the OCA decision do not seem to take any of these aspects of our lives into consideration. There are 1.4 million of us left out in the cold with no rights and no say based entirely on a slippery slope argument and a selective reading of the social contract.
Let me tell you one more story. I was 25, an expat and studying in Europe when I took my 16-year-old sister backpacking. We visited seven cities in five countries. Sometime during our travel a diplomatic dispute between Canada and the Czech Republic resulted in the reinstatement of visa requirements for Canadian citizens. Unaware of this change while on the road, we were making our merry way from Vienna to Prague when we were promptly kicked off the train in the middle of nowhere because we didn't have the correct visas.
My sister and I, two Canadian citizens, could only see train tracks around us. We were stranded and straddling a border between two foreign countries, speaking neither language, nor any idea of what to do next. The actions of the Canadian government caused fear in two young Canadian citizens. Now tell me how I'm not "directly affected by the law"?
Instead of voting on Monday I, together with other expats, will be having a viewing party here in LA. Our government and courts may have stripped away our right to vote, but they can't take away just how much we care, or how much these elections matter to us. We'll be having poutine and ceasers, getting nostalgic for home, wishing we could be there with all of you and wondering if you miss us as much as we miss you.
I live in a country now that has protected my right to vote. U.S. citizens around the world, regardless of how long they've been away, enjoy this inalienable right. The United States has pride and sense of obligation towards its citizens.
I just wish Canada had the same feeling towards us as well. I can only hope that by 2020 it will.
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