Canada will not change election date despite falling on Jewish holiday

B’nai Brith Canada slams decision as ‘redline’ – CIJA ‘respects’ it

By
July 31, 2019 18:16
Canada will not change election date despite falling on Jewish holiday

Canadian and Israeli flags are seen during a demonstration in support of Israel, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE)

Canada’s chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault has decided not to move the country’s federal election date to accommodate observant Jewish voters since it falls on Shmini Atzeret this year – October 21.

This comes despite a federal court ruling last week that ordered the Elections Canada chief to reconsider changing the date of federal vote to October 28.

In a statement about the decision, Perrault claimed that it would not be in the “public interest” to change the voting day.

“There is no such thing as a perfect Election Day, especially in a country as diverse as Canada,” Perrault wrote. “There are always Canadians who are unable to vote on Election Day. I recognize that maintaining October 21 as Election Day means that observant Jews will have to vote in one of these alternative ways. They nevertheless have a genuine opportunity to participate in the electoral process.”

Perrault noted that observant Jewish candidates, including Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is the Conservative Party candidate for the Eglinton-Lawrence area in Toronto, will be affected by the decision.

This means that she will not be able to campaign on Election Day, or have members of her community campaign for her outside of polling stations.

“I recognize that in the case of an observant Jewish candidate, the impact of not moving the election date is very significant,” Perrault continued. “Other than moving the date of the election, no arrangement can be made that would truly allow her to meet her religious obligations and compete on equal terms with non-observant candidates.”

He emphasized that this was “a difficult situation that directly touches upon the very core values of our democracy.”

“I nevertheless believe, when considering the entirety of my statutory mandate, and especially at this time in the electoral calendar, that it is not in the public interest for me to recommend a change to the date of the general election,” Perrault explained. “This is not a decision that I make lightly, but with a view to providing the broadest possible range of accessible voting services to the population at large.”

Concluding his statement, the chief electoral officer said, “for all of these reasons... I will not be recommending to the Governor in Council an alternate day for the 2019 general election. I am committed to continuing to work with the Jewish community to maximize voting options within the existing calendar in ways that are convenient and consistent with their religious beliefs.”

Three of the four alternative voting dates, however, fall either on Shabbat or other Jewish holidays.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that “CIJA respects the decision taken by the Chief Electoral Officer. We will continue working closely with Elections Canada to maximize opportunities for the Jewish community to participate in the democratic process.”

“While mindful of the inconvenience that some will experience and the clear disadvantages faced by a religiously observant candidate, we trust that those challenges can and will be mitigated by the measures put into place by Elections Canada,” Koffler Fogel said. “Our focus after the election will be to change the fixed election date so it will not coincide with Jewish Holidays in the future. We have already raised this objective with Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, who has expressed openness to it.”

B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn slammed the decision early Tuesday morning, however, saying that the fact that Jewish candidates will not be able to compete equally with non-Jewish candidates is a “redline” for the organization.

“The CEO admits that observant Jewish candidates like Chani Aryeh-Bain in Eglinton-Lawrence and David Tordjman in Mount Royal will not be able to ‘compete on equal terms with non-observant candidates,’” Mostyn said in a written statement. “And for us at B’nai Brith, that’s a redline. The problem now is that Elections Canada has ‘run out the clock’ on us. We have no practical way of appealing the second decision, and having it heard before the August 1 election date deadline.”

Mostyn said that the organization takes “human rights seriously and has been advocating for the rights of Canadian Jews since 1875,” he explained. “It goes without saying that the rights to vote and run for office – on an equal footing with all other Canadians – are among the most fundamental rights.”

“That is why, many months ago, we made the decision not to sit silently while Elections Canada planned the upcoming federal election for the High Holy Day of Shmini Atzeret,” he said. “Despite what some naysayers predicted, we won in Federal Court, alongside applicants Chani Aryeh-Bain and Ira Walfish.”

Mostyn said that the chief electoral officer’s decision has also “dashed any hope of changing Election Day by refusing to do so – for the second time. In our opinion, this decision is just as wrong as the first.”

He explained that although Elections Canada has made “accommodations... at advanced polls that will enable more observant Jews to vote. Last year, when the Quebec election fell on Shmini Atzeret and Élections Québec made similar accommodations, voter turnout in D’Arcy-McGee, the most heavily Jewish riding, still fell from 72% to 47%. We fear that this scenario may repeat itself this year.”

Mostyn called on “every Canadian Jew” who is able “to cast a ballot via advanced polls or special ballots – and we will be providing more information on those options in the near future.”

“We say that every Canadian Jew should ask their local candidates one key question: Will you support amendments to the Canada Elections Act, backed by B’nai Brith, to ensure that Election Day never falls on a major Jewish holiday again?” he said.

Prior to Perrault’s decision, Aryeh-Bain wrote an op-ed in The National Post about the importance of changing the date.

She pointed out that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.

“In 2007, the Ontario provincial election fell on Shmini Atzeret,” she wrote at the time. “The Ontario chief elections officer and then-premier Dalton McGuinty moved the date… and no harm was done.”


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