Trudeau to review voting ban for long-term expats

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boards a government plane before leaving the United Kingdom Thursday November 26, 2015 in Luton, England. Trudeau is heading to Malta for the Commonwealths Heads of Government meeting. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

TORONTO – A Canadian woman who recently met Justin Trudeau in London says the prime minister indicated a willingness to review a law disenfranchising long-term expats.

In an interview from the U.K., Laura Bailey says she met Trudeau at a reception at the Canadian High Commission on Nov. 25 as he moved through the crowd and shook his hand.

“I hope you can reinstate my right to vote in the next election,” Bailey said she told Trudeau.

“He said to me, ‘We’ll work on that,’ with a little cutesy smile. Then I took a selfie with him.”

While it wasn’t a firm promise to repeal the legislation, Bailey said she took it as “promising” that Trudeau seemed to be at least willing to consider revamping the rules.

There was no response from the Prime Minister’s Office to a request for comment.

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An Elections Canada spokesman noted that Trudeau, who has pledged various democratic reforms, has also promised to repeal parts of the Conservative legislation known as Bill C-23 – the Fair Elections Act – that critics complain made it harder for some to vote.

“Suspect the review of C-23 might generate discussion of expats,” John Enright said in an email Tuesday.

The law barring Canadian citizens who have lived abroad for more than five years from casting ballots has been on the books since 1993 but it was only under the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper that Elections Canada began its strict enforcement.

The issue became a flashpoint for many of the estimated 1.4 million expat Canadians who found themselves shut out from voting in 2011 and again in 2015. Canadian business groups in Asia criticized the Conservatives, expats in New York organized a pre-election anti-Harper bash, and one U.S. resident ran as a protest candidate in Harper’s Calgary riding – even though he couldn’t vote for himself.

“The last government made a hasty decision to limit the rights of expat voters and reinterpret the law,” said Bailey, 28, formerly of Brantford, Ont.

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“I have quite a few friends here…who were just left not being able to vote – regardless of who they wanted to vote for. We felt really disenfranchised.”

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Bailey was able to cast a ballot in October – she has been abroad just shy of four years – and said was keen to do so because she might not be able to next time. She said she wrote candidates in her home riding asking for their views. None replied.

Two expats in the U.S. are also waiting to see if the Supreme Court of Canada will hear their challenge to a law they say is discriminatory, but which has so far been upheld by the courts. They have urged the government to not defend the law if the top court agrees to hear the case.

Like many other expats, Bailey said she has parents, a brother and relatives living in Canada, and she cares about what happens to the country. For now, she’s hoping Trudeau will come through.

“If he can legalize marijuana, he can legalize my right to vote,” she said with a laugh.

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