Federal election date problematic for observant Jews

Toronto Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain

An effort to change the date of the Oct. 21 federal election to Oct. 28 because of a holiday that restricts observant Jews from voting has been given national media exposure, attracted support from B’nai Brith Canada and is in federal court.

The national media reported that Toronto Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, an Orthodox Jew, will not be able to vote on Oct. 21 because it falls on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which follows Sukkot. The candidate, along with activist Ira Wakfish, have filed suite in court against the federal chief electoral officer demanding a change to the date.

Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, told Global, “We all have calendars; they’re even on the iPhones and Android devices nowadays. Simply consulting a calendar shouldn’t be too much to ask for.” According to reports, some 75,000 Orthodox Jews around the country are affected. A Canada Elections Act provision states that an election date can be changed if it falls on a “day of cultural or religious significance.”

Walfish also told the media that even some advance polling dates present a problem, with one on a Saturday during the Sabbath, one on a Jewish holiday and one on a Friday — the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday. Citizens can however vote on any day they wish once the election writ is dropped.

David Tordjman, the Conservative candidate for Mount Royal who is observant, said that while he appreciates “the efforts of the Chief Electoral Officer’s attempts to justify why the electoral dates will not be changed, the issue is not about the financial implications 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 added. “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 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?

We asked Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather about the issue, and he pointed out that that the “Fixed Election Law adopted under the previous Conservative Government sets a fixed date and only the Chief Electoral Officer can recommend changing it.

“Of course, I was concerned about the date and as soon as I became aware of it in April, I wrote and spoke directly with the Chief Electoral Officer on this issue to ensure he understands the problems for observant Jewish voters caused by this voting date and some of the advance polling days,” Housefather added. “He assured me that he understands the issue at hand and committed to me that he will have substantial additional staff in Mount Royal and other ridings with many Jewish voters.”

Housefather also emphasized that in a federal election, unlike a provincial or municipal vote, “you can vote pretty much any day at the Returning Office. That means you can literally vote almost every day of the entire campaign. So nobody should be prevented from voting here.”

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