Monday, September 22, 2008

New election rules could leave some First Nations residents without a vote

The Federal election of October 14th will require voters to provide proof of identity and address before we can cast a ballot, a process that a Vancouver lawyer fears could disenfranchise up to 700,000 voters across Canada.

The Daily News listed the concerns of Jim Quail in Friday's papaer, who says that Elections Canada's refusal to accept Indian status cards as valid ID could result in many of Canada's residents losing their right to vote.

Status cards are allowed provinically, but there was no change to the federal provisions prior to the election call, though residents already on the voters list living in a rural area apparently will be allowed to vote, but not those that are registering for the first time and who don't have the appropriate ID.

A number of potential solutions to the problem have been suggested, but so far there is no clear indidcation as to how best to solve the dilemma.

Advocates for potentially affected First Nations members, as well as the various political parties may seek to have this cleared up before election day, in close races, every vote counts and wins and losses could be at hand by the slimmest of margins.

New rules raise fears that some voters will be left out
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, September 19, 2008

A Vancouver-based lawyer is saying First Nations voters could get the screw job in the federal elections because of new federal voting rules.

Executive Director of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Jim Quail, said on Thursday that the new identification rules, which don't consider Indian status cards valid as ID, could stop up to 700,000 voters across Canada from voting in next month's election.

"The rules require a production of documents as a precursor of voting and your documents have to prove your identity and your residential address," said Quail.

"The only sort of escape valve is to get someone to vouch for you but that is a very restricted process and it's not going to solve the problem for many people."

Quail's major concern is that people in Canada living in rural areas, which he included many First Nation people living on reserves, where there is no municipal authority to put a number on a street to prove where you live, could be denied their right to vote on Oct. 14.

His organization had filed a legal challenge to the rule changes with the BC Supreme Court but the hearing isn't scheduled until late-April, leaving the challenge mute for this election.

In B.C., voting rules allow status cards as a valid form of identification for voting but no such proviso exists federally, which specifies that a status card is not valid on its own.

The primary form of identification is to bring either a B.C. driver's licence or a B.C. ID card but Quail said that because there are no federal documents that qualify as a proper identification - meaning a photo ID and address - there is an issue with the voting rules.

"You think (status cards) would be accepted because it says your ancestry have lived in Canada for thousands of years," said Quail.

An amendment to the bill changing election rules did say that if you lived in a rural community without an address you would be able to vote if you are already on the voters list. But you would not be able to register on the day of the vote, hence limiting the ability of first-time voters to participate.

One way to deal with the problem is voters could prove their identity at the voting booth by producing a First Nations status card with a hydro bill because it would have proof of name and address. Quail said this could exclude many people living in First Nations communities.

Brian Roberts of Elections Canada's office in Prince Rupert, confirmed that rules have changed but that bringing in a hydro bill with an id would be useful.

"The act said that two pieces of identification authorizing, one which establishes their name and the second which establishes their address which applies to the status card as it would constitute as one of the two pieces," said Roberts.

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