2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 64
Thursday, May 29, 2014
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
Canada Elections Act
Bill to Amend—Second Reading
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Frum, seconded by the Honourable Senator Maltais, for the second reading of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-23.
I want to thank Senator Runciman and Senator Baker for all the work they do on behalf of us at the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and all the work they have done on Bill C-23. I also want to thank Senator Moore and Senator Frum for shepherding this bill.
Honourable senators, every few months I walk through the streets of Vancouver in the middle of the night. I see the same people sleeping in the same corner month after month. That’s their home. They don’t have a fixed address, but somebody that knows them or sleeps next to them knows that that is where they live.
Not only will this bill disenfranchise the homeless, it will also affect our seniors, our students and countless others.
Let’s take the example of a senior couple or any household, for that matter, where a woman does not have an address because the household bills are under her husband’s name. Along with this, she has lost all her pieces of ID. Unfortunately, she would have to rely on her husband to vote.
Under this new law, those people will have no identity and will not be able to vote. Their right to vote will be denied. Is that the kind of democratic reform we want? Is that the kind of Canada we want?
Honourable senators, during the last election in Canada in 2011, we saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in history; 61.1 per cent of Canadians voted.
In 1996, our current Prime Minister stated:
Rushing electoral reforms through Parliament without buy-in from other parties is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in the Third World countries.
Unfortunately, there has not been much cooperation between the various parties in the House of Commons. Thanks to this Red Chamber, we have the advantage of being independent from the House of Commons. We have the advantage of studying in detail the bills proposed by a majority government.
That’s why we are the chamber of sober second thought.
This bill does not have the unanimous support of Canadians.
Many people have criticized the fact that politics was not taken out of the administration of elections, and others are critical of the fact that voter information cards can no longer be used to vote and the fact that Elections Canada will no longer have the right to promote voter participation.
Today, I would like to focus on one particular issue. I have raised this issue in committee in the pre-study. I’m very concerned about the identification issue. I know I have an uphill battle regarding producing identification at poll booths. As for vouching, I would like to share with you the comments of Shaila Patel of Lac La Ronge. The Lac La Ronge Indian Band is the largest First Nation in Saskatchewan. Here is what she says:
Importantly, Bill C-23 would prohibit the practice of “vouching” where a fellow community member can attest to a person’s residence or a band official appointed by the chief can vouch for our community members if they do not have identification containing their address.
Vouching has been used frequently with Band-appointed officials in the Lac La Ronge communities over the past several federal and provincial elections.
There has never been one case of fraud.
The federal government says it is restricting vouching because it eliminates the risk of fraudulent voting.
However, voter fraud is impossible in our community where everybody knows everybody else.
The elimination of vouching will greatly reduce the number of our community members who will be able or willing to exercise their right to vote rather than encouraging voter participation.
Honourable senators, Sonny Nauss, a Canadian from Nova Scotia who has worked in election polls, had this to say:
This bill clearly does not represent the needs or wishes of Canadians.
I have worked the polls for many elections and the vouching issue is a non-issue. I’ve had people vouched for in almost every election I have worked. NO FRAUD! True, the polls I worked were in rural areas where everyone knows everyone but sometimes people did forget their IDs and rather than waste their time going to get it vouching was the way to go.
Nothing about this Bill seems right to me. It seems to be biased and personally I think it only serves Mr. Harper’s personal agenda. The bill threatens the main building block of Democracy . . . The Right to Vote.
A Proud Canadian.
After much consideration, the government decided to keep the vouching system in place, although voters still need to present a piece of ID.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Colleagues, is it possible to turn down the volume of your private conversations, to ensure that we are able to listen to the interesting notes and remarks of Senator Jaffer.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much, Your Honour.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, this bill will affect 100,000 to 120,000 people, including students, the homeless that might not have ID with a current address, and, as I have already said, First Nations people living on reserves who do not typically have a residential address.
Peter Dinsdale, Acting CEO of the Assembly of First Nations, has testified that the changes will make it harder for Aboriginal people to vote and it is a step backward.
There is one important point to remember, yet it may seem like a given for many people. Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, and I quote:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly. . .
Luckily, the Minister of State backed down and proposed some amendments to the bill. However, they are not enough.
I would like to quote part of a speech given by our House of Commons colleague, Stéphane Dion:
. . .the government reconsidered, though only in part, its plan to abolish the vouching system, which protects the right to vote of Canadians without forms of identification.
The vouching system allows those citizens to identify themselves under oath and to have another Canadian from the same electoral district vouch for them.
This provision enables many Canadians, including students, seniors, and first nations people, to exercise their right to vote; coincidentally these groups are the least likely to vote for the Conservatives.
Whereas the first version of Bill C-23 removed any right of vouching, the new version allows voters who have proof of address to swear to the address of those who can only prove their identity, provided they live in the same polling district.
That was partial progress.
The Chief Electoral Officer has pointed out that seniors who live in long-term care facilities, and who vote on-site and do not have proper ID or utility bills, rely heavily on voter identification cards to vote.
Elimination of the voter identification card would disenfranchise many Canadian seniors.
Our colleague, Stéphane Dion, is quite right when he says that many Canadians will no longer be able to vote because of these changes. When the Minister of State for Democratic Reform appeared before the committee to discuss Bill C-23, I asked him a number of questions having to do with my concerns. I asked him how a student or a homeless person without an address will be able to vote.
Honourable senators, Senator Frum, the sponsor of this bill, stated:
Honourable senators, the fair elections act will bring an end to voting by vouching, where anyone without the required ID could have his or her identity vouched for by another elector. Bill C-23 eliminates vouching. From now on, electors will have to provide personal identification before they can vote, as well as proof of address. . . .
A recent Ipsos poll found that 87 per cent believe it’s reasonable to require that electors prove their identity and address before they can vote.
I agree, honourable senators, that 87 per cent of Canadians think that it is reasonable. I am sure that the other place took that 87 per cent into account when they were presenting this bill. But here, in this chamber, we are the guardians for the minority. That is our job. That is why each one of us in this chamber was appointed to the Senate of Canada. The other place can look after the 87 per cent, but we are here to protect the rights of the 13 per cent. I urge the committee to study this issue further.
Also, Senator Frum stated in her second reading speech:
Some claim there is no evidence of vouching fraud in Canada, but we don’t know that because Elections Canada never conducted audits of vouching after elections to see if there was fraud.
Honourable senators, we are acting when there is no proof that there may or may not be fraud, but we know something as a certainty. We have proof that, by bringing in this law regarding vouching for ID, we will definitely be denying the rights of Canadians to vote; the right to vote that we all hold sacred in a democracy. I urge the committee to revisit this issue.
On February 5, Minister Pierre Poilievre stated:
The good news is that there would continue to be roughly 39 different pieces of identification that would be acceptable.
It is important to note, honourable senators, that neither the current Canada Elections Act nor Bill C-23 actually lists those pieces of identification. Rather, the act empowers the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize pieces of identification as proof of identity and residence.
I would like to point out the emphasis placed on the fact that the person’s ID must show a residential address.
Honourable senators, I would like to remind you of what the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Marc Mayrand, told the committee:
Approximately 120,000 Canadians do not have an address.
So let’s look at the 39 pieces of identification. First, if you are a homeowner, you are most likely to have eight possible documents with your address: a utility bill, such as telephone, TV, public utilities commission, hydro, gas or water; bank or credit card statement; vehicle ownership or insurance; government cheque or cheque stub; pension plan statement of benefits, contributions or participation; residential lease or mortgage statement; income or property tax assessment notice; or insurance policy. If you are a car owner, you will have one more piece of ID and one piece of documentation: driver’s licence, vehicle ownership or insurance. If you are a firearm owner, you will have one piece of ID you can use to vote: firearm possession and acquisition licence or possession only licence. If you are a hunter, fisher or trapper, you most likely have two possible documents: outdoors or wildlife card/licence; fishing, trapping or hunting licence. If, unfortunately, you are sick, you have two other possible documents: hospital bracelet worn by residents of long-term care facilities, or hospital medical clinic card.
If you are a veteran, you have one more piece of ID: the Veterans Affairs Canada health card. If you are a member of the Canadian Forces, you have one more piece of ID: the Canadian Forces identity card. If you are blind, you have one more piece of ID: the CNIB ID card. If unfortunately you are disabled, you may have one piece of ID: a statement of government benefits, that is, disability support. If you are on parole, you may have one more piece of ID: a parolee ID card. If you are a blood donor, you may have a Canadian Blood Services card. If you have children, you might have one more potential document, a statement of government benefits for the Child Tax Benefit. If you are a student, you will have a student ID card or a correspondence issued by a school, college or university. If you are a senior, you might have an Old Age Security card, a pension plan statement of benefits contributions or a statement of government benefits.
If you are an immigrant, you may have a citizenship card. If you are an Aboriginal person, you may have a certificate of Indian status or a status card and an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authority of a First Nations band or reserve.
If you travel, you may have a Canadian passport. If you have a job, you have an employee card.
If you’re not a homeowner, not a car owner, not an immigrant, not a blood donor and you have no kids, how many documents do you potentially have? That leaves the homeless, students and others with eight, not 39, potential pieces of ID or documents they can use to cast their vote. A health card if it’s not stolen. A birth certificate if it’s not stolen. A SIN card if it’s not stolen. A liquor ID card if it’s not stolen. A credit or debit card if it’s not stolen. A public transportation card if you can afford one. You don’t have an address, so you can’t have a library card.
Honourable senators, I walk on my streets in Vancouver, and I know the first thing a homeless person loses is their wallet and all of their identification cards. We would be naive to think that they have identification cards. I would challenge any senator here who would say to me that a homeless person is not entitled to vote.
Honourable senators, consider how many homeless people have a health card, how many carry around their birth certificates, how many have a bank account.
Honourable senators, I would like to ask you to consider something. We are not elected by the majority. On the contrary, our role, in circumstances like these, is to represent those minorities, those homeless people, those students, those seniors, those Aboriginal people.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Do you need more time?
Senator Jaffer: Five more minutes, please.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are five more minutes granted to Senator Jaffer?
Some Hon. senators: Agreed.
Senator Jaffer: For most people, those pieces of identification and those documents may seem easy to obtain. But the reality for some minorities, such as the homeless and students, may be very different. However, that doesn’t affect their right to vote in the same way as any Canadian.
Let’s not forget one simple, important fact: a homeless person has nothing except the clothes on his back and his own being.
I would like to share with you the comments of one Canadian who is very concerned about Bill C-23. Her name is Kathleen White-Hoar.
Requiring more ID to vote . . . will make it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of voters to vote — instead the current ID rules should be kept, with the voter registration card added to the list of valid ID, and Elections Canada should be empowered and given the resources to hire election workers earlier and train them better, and to make the voter registration list even more accurate.
I have heard several comments regarding the number of times it appears vouching was not recorded appropriately.
On two occasions I have been denied the right to vote as I had relocated and had not changed my ID yet.
On one of these occasions I had my ID, mail that showed I had an address in the community, and someone to vouch for me.
Yet I was still denied the right to vote.
Are these incidents recorded?
How do we know that elections have not been adversely affected in this manner?
What about homeless Canadians, were can they cast their ballot?
Honourable senators, many people don’t have 39 options. They may have one or none. Those are the people we are disenfranchising. There is absolute proof that this bill will lead to people not being able to vote. The Senate is considered to be the chamber of sober second thought. We, as senators, have a duty to hear those concerns and fight for the rights of the minorities.
Honourable senators, I urge you not to take what I have said lightly and to examine this bill appropriately to make sure that all Canadians are able to cast their vote at the next election. Thank you very much.
Hon. Pierrette Ringuette: Would the Honourable Senator Jaffer entertain a question?
Senator Jaffer: Yes.
Senator Ringuette: My 97-year-old mother has been voting in federal elections since women won the right to vote. She has no Canadian passport, she has no car, she has no driver’s licence. She lives in a home that does not deliver mail, so her mail is sent to my sister’s address. She therefore has no identification that gives her address.
The federal government requires old age pensions to be deposited directly into seniors’ bank accounts, so that provides no proof of address.
Now Canadians are being told that their right to vote will be taken away if they don’t have two pieces of identification showing their address. My 97-year-old mother, as I said, has always paid her taxes and she is very sharp — I even think that some would be jealous of how sharp she is. How can I be assured that this bill won’t deprive her of her right to vote?
Senator Jaffer: Senator Ringuette, that’s the challenge. That is what I’m concerned about. I don’t know what will happen. That’s our challenge and that is why I am asking that the committee study this issue.
Senator Ringuette: My next question might be for Senator Jaffer in particular, but it could also be addressed to all the members present in this chamber.
How are you going to ensure that my 97-year-old mother, who is a Canadian citizen, will be able to vote in the next election when she has no ID with her address on it, no passport, no driver’s licence, and no photo ID?
My mother is not the only one in this situation. In the home where she lives, there are 63 people in the same situation. Who among you would want to take away their right to vote?
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I will allow a short answer to that question.
Senator Jaffer: That is my concern, and that is what I want the committee to look at.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Continuing debate?
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Your Honour, this item had been adjourned by Senator Day, in his name, but today Senator Day informed me, with some regret, that he is really tied up for the next little while with the National Finance Committee. So he has undertaken, instead, to speak at third reading of this bill.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I understand that he will speak at third reading. That’s good.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Some Hon. Senators: Yes.
Some Hon. Senators: No.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: On division.
(Motion agreed to, on division, and bill read second time.)
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: When shall this bill be read the third time?
(On motion of Senator Frum, bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs)