If you are a long-term Canadian expat, that surprising answer is no. Ontario’s top court recently overturned a ruling that had allowed long-term Canadian expats to vote. With this new ruling, Canadian citizens who live abroad for 5 years or more are not allowed to vote because it would be ‘unfair to those who live in Canada.’ There are nearly one million Canadians living outside the country and there is outrage at the decision.
According to this cbc.com article, two Canadians living in the US — Montreal-born Jamie Duong and Toronto-born Gillian Frank — launched a constitutional challenge, arguing the five-year rule was arbitrary and unreasonable. They both argued that they had only left Canada for educational and employment opportunities and still had strong attachments to Canada and a stake in its future. Unfortunately, Justice George Strathy disagreed with their stance.
“Permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives,” – Justice George Strathy
Justice Strathy continued to say, “This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws.”
The social contract he refers to is Canada’s belief that citizens submit to laws because they had a voice in making them through voting.
A previous law was enacted in 1993 and also stated that Canadians living outside of the country for more than 5 years were not allowed to vote. However, the ‘time clock’ for the 5 years was reset when a citizen returned to Canada even for a brief period of time. This was in place until 2007, when the requirement was flipped and stated that one must return to residency in Canada in order to have their voting rights restored.
In May last year, Superior Court Justice Michael Penny threw out the ban as unconstitutional, noting that mass murderers can vote but long-term expats who care deeply about the country cannot.
However, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Penny’s decision and affirmed the law, estimated to disenfranchise more than one million expats.*
Actor Donald Sutherland took great offense to the ruling, making the following statements:
“Americans who live abroad can vote. They can vote because they’re citizens,” he says. “But I can’t. Because why? Because I’m not a citizen? Because what happens to Canada doesn’t matter to me? Ask any journalist that’s ever interviewed me what nationality I proudly proclaim to have. Ask them. They’ll tell you. I am a Canadian. But I’m an expatriate and the Harper government won’t let expatriates participate in Canadian elections.”
While this currently only impacts Canadian expats, it isn’t hard to imagine that other countries may some day follow suit. US expats are still digesting the implications of FATCA. It is logical to assume the US will not move to a residency-based voting system because of the importance they place on the rights and responsibilities of all taxpayers, regardless of where they live. But we will keep a close eye out nonetheless!