Chani Aryeh-Bain is gearing up for a busy federal election campaign. The Conservative Party of Canada candidate is running in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.
But after clinching the nomination in April, she said she realized she may not be voting in the election.
“I looked at the calendar and I realized a few days afterward that, boy, this is falling on my holiday. This is not going to be good,” she said.
Oct. 21, 2019 is federal election day in Canada.
It is also an important Jewish holiday called Shemini Atzeret, following the festival of Sukkot.
“Shemini Atzeret restricts me from doing a lot of things,” she explained.
“We can’t drive, we can’t work, we can’t vote, we can’t use the phone, the computers, so a lot of things that need to be done on an election day I can’t do.”
Aryeh-Bain said she contacted Canada’s chief electoral officer, asking for a shift in the date from Oct. 21. She has the support of the Jewish organization B’nai Brith Canada.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said, “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.”
The date not only impacts Aryeh-Bain — approximately 75,000 orthodox Jews in the country will also not be able to participate on election day.
“Religious people want to vote just like every other Canadian wants to vote,” said Ira Walfish, a Jewish community member and activist.
They’re seeking a shift in the election date to Oct. 28.
The Canada Elections Act points out the chief electoral officer can choose an alternate day if “it is in conflict with a day of cultural or religious significance.” The same holiday led to a shift in election dates before.
“In 2007, the Ontario provincial election … it was not considered in Quebec although it was recognized and voter turnout plummeted from over 70 per cent to about 44 per cent in a highly Jewish riding,” recalled Mostyn.
The case is now winding its way through federal court, but time is of the essence.
If the election date is to change, it must be decided by Aug. 1.
A lawyer for Elections Canada argued in court: “There is no such thing as a perfect election and no such thing as a perfect polling date.”
But Walfish pointed out three out of four advance polling dates are problematic, too.
“One day is Saturday, which we can’t do. One day is also a Jewish holiday. And even on a Friday, the problem is people work — every employee cannot take off because, legally, they’re not allowed to take off work,” he said.
By law, eligible voters are required to have three consecutive hours to vote on election day. If a person’s work hours do not allow for such a time period, employers are legally obligated to give voters time off work in order to cast their ballot, however this does not apply to advance polling dates.
For Aryeh-Bain, she said the decision to change the election date should be a “no-brainer.”
“The CEO (chief electoral officer) should have looked at it and saw that there is a religious holiday on that day and thought of changing it to another day, moving it off,” she said.
Aryeh-Bain, who has assisted in other previous election campaigns, said she will be at a huge disadvantage if the date remains Oct. 21.