The ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal will mean that more than a million expats who have been non-residents for five years or more will lose the right to vote in federal elections, including the upcoming election this fall.
The majority opinion held that allowing long-term non-residents to vote in the federal elections would not be fair to those who live in Canada. Writing the majority decision Justice George Strathy wrote: “The ruling came as the result of a constitutional challenge by two Canadians, Jamie Duong and Gillian Frank, who claimed the five-year limit was arbitrary and not reasonable. They both claim to still have strong attachments to Canada and a stake in the future of the county. In May of last year, Superior Court Justice Michael Penny had rejected the voting ban. He noted that Canadian citizens who are mass murderers retain the right to vote but long-term expats who might care deeply about their country could not vote even though they were still subject to Canadian tax and other laws.While the majority in the Ontario Court of Appeals judgement rejected Penny's decision, Justice John Laskin found his reasoning persuasive. He pointed out that contrary to the majority opinion, the Canadian government had never argued that preserving the social contract justified the breach. Even if it had, he argued, this would not be a good reason to limit voting rights. Records show that in the 2011 election only 6,000 expats actually voted.One famous Canadian who will be banned from voting this next election is Donald Sutherland. Sutherland claims not only to have a Canadian passport and to be the recipient of the Order of Canada, but also has a "maple leaf in his underwear." He pointed out that Americans who live abroad can vote simply because they are US citizens. Sutherland, now 80, lives in the U.S. in Los Angeles but is exclusively a Canadian citizen. He owns a home in Georgeville Quebec. Sutherland claims that he and his wife live in Canada whenever they are able and calls the Quebec residence the family house. Not only is Sutherland the recipient of the Order of Canada, but he also received the Governor-General's award and has a star in Canada's Walk of Fame.
Permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives.” While admitting that the ruling infringed on the rights of expats, he claimed that the infringement was reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society.To allow the expats to vote he claimed would erode the social contract between citizens and the government.