Court orders rethink of Oct. 21 federal election date

B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn

The Federal Court of Canada last week ordered Elections Canada to rethink the possibility of moving this year’s federal election date from Oct. 21 to Oct. 28.

The Oct. 21 date is problematic for observant members of the Jewish community because it falls on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which follows Sukkot, and they would not be able to vote. Toronto Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, an Orthodox Jew, and activist Ira Walfish took the case to Federal Court, and B’nai Brith Canada intervened in support of the candidate.

Justice Ann Marie McDonald ruled there was “a lack of evidence on the record to demonstrate that the Chief Electoral Officer undertook the requisite proportionate balancing of Charter rights with statutory mandate,” with regard to the goals of the Canada Elections Act.

“This is a massive victory for the Canadian Jewish community and the cause of human rights,” Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada, tsaid. “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.”

“We urge the Chief Electoral Officer to act quickly and make the right decision.”

Aryeh-Bain, writing in an op-ed piece in The National Post last week, pointed out several of the advance polls dates are also a problem because some fall on Sukkot and the Sabbath, and close to the eve of Sukkot.It must be pointed out that in a federal election, unlike provincial or municipal, voters may vote on any day after the writ is dropped if they go to the returning office of their riding.

The candidate also cited the 2007 Ontario provincial election, which also fell on the same Jewish holiday, Shemini Atzeret.

“The Ontario chief elections officer and then-premier Dalton McGuinty moved the date,” she wrote. “No harm done.”

The candidate added that along with herself, another Orthodox Jew is running for office this year — current Côte St. Luc councillor David Tordjman in Mount Royal.

Tordjman told The Suburban last week that the issue “is not about the financial implications [of changing the election date] nor is it about providing exceptions or special considerations.

“The issue is that a segment of the population is provided 16 hours to vote, as opposed to their fellow Canadians who have 60 hours to vote,” he said. “Voters across my riding, in Côte St. Luc, Hampstead, Côte des Neiges and Town of Mount-Royal are expressing their concern and rightly so. It is under the purview of the Chief Electoral Officer to change these dates.”

Tordjman also acknowledged, as Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather told us last week, that a vote can be cast anytime before the Oct. 21 election date.

However, “the questions we should be asking are — why is a portion of the population being forced to make this important decision prior to the rest of the country, and what price do we place on an individual’s democratic right to vote?”

The deadline for Elections Canada to decide the election date is tomorrow, Aug. 1.

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