COLUMN: Democracy and civil liberties at risk

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On Feb. 4, Pierre Poilievre, the Democratic Reform Minister, introduced Bill C-23 (The Fair Elections Act). This Act attempts to tackle illegal robocalls, voter fraud, and other issues related to election results and investigative powers. It would also raise the amount of donations that can be given to political parties, from $1,200 to $1,500 annually.

However, while the Act attempts to rectify election issues, the Bill itself threatens democracy and fairness.

Restrictive voter ID laws would prevent voters from using voter information cards as identification, and also prevent a person from “vouching” for another individual who does not have a voter ID with him/her at the polling station.

According to the chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, this would affect nearly 100,000 individuals and have an especially negative effect on aboriginal voters on reserves, young Canadians, and seniors. He also stated that Elections Canada would not be able to support StudentVote anymore.

StudentVote is a program that allows Canadian students in elementary and secondary schools to participate in a simulated student vote day, before the real election day. I remember taking part in this initiative in high school. Not only does this program allow students to experience voting, but it can have the potential to encourage students to vote throughout their lifetime and become engaged with the political process. According to the StudentVote website, around three million Canadian students have taken part in these student vote days.

Furthermore, Elections Canada would also be restricted from encouraging Canadians to vote and would only be able to notify voters of how, when, and where to vote. Such measures are a threat to the health and safety of Canadian democracy.

To truly ensure fairness in elections, it is important that we promote voting and ensure full accessibility for voters. The so-called Fair Elections Act, in fact, seems to contradict its very purpose.

Similar to Bill C-23, which challenges Canadian democracy, Bill C-24 (Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act), which was introduced last week, could put Canadian civil liberties at risk.  Potential Canadian citizens also face stricter language and knowledge-test requirements, with citizenship applicants not being able to use an interpreter anymore. These new measures come after the government’s previous weakening of the family reunification program, and health care cuts for refugee claimants.

While there are some positive aspects to the Act, such as those affecting “Lost Canadians” and those serving in the Canadian Forces, other aspects could threaten justice and civil liberties, especially by giving greater ministerial power over citizenship revocation.

In certain cases, dual citizens could be have their Canadian citizenship stripped, and government would have “authority to revoke Canadian citizenship and deny it to PRs who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences” and also “expands bar on getting citizenship to people with foreign criminal charges and convictions” (see http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06e.asp).

While we must ensure that those who commit acts of terror receive the proper punishment for their crimes, we must maintain the supremacy of our justice system, and not hand over the reins of justice to temporarily elected officials.  Additionally, a Canadian dual citizen could also be falsely accused of terrorism or crimes in foreign countries with corrupt regimes.

According to UBC Research Fellow Efrat Arbel: “The proposed provisions allowing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to strip dual nationals of Canadian citizenship are deeply concerning. The Canadian criminal justice system already has established mechanisms by which to effectively punish individuals who commit unlawful acts.”

In order to ensure a truly democratic and just society, it is important for our federal government to understand that introducing new legislation, without considering the long-term ramifications on Canadian society, can be extremely harmful.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.


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