TORONTO — A Canadian citizen has become a protest candidate in the riding held by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper even though he is barred from voting because he has lived outside Canada for too long.
Nicolas Duchastel de Montrouge is now one of seven people taking on Harper in Calgary Heritage after spending more than a week collecting the requisite 100 signatures from riding residents.
“It was hard but we made it happen,” Duchastel de Montrouge said Monday from suburban Seattle where he lives. “I am the only candidate I think that resides outside Canada.”
Duchastel de Montrouge’s registration as an Independent comes as two other long-term expats prepared to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to restore their right to vote from abroad.
In their application for leave to appeal expected to be filed Tuesday, Gill Frank and Jamie Duong are asking the top court to decide whether stripping the vote from Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years violates their charter rights.
“This case impacts the voting rights of over a million Canadian citizens,” the application says. “Moreover, it engages fundamental issues concerning the meaning of citizenship and democracy in Canada.”
The case bubbled onto the election trail recently when Harper stumped with former hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who has long lived in the U.S. and could not vote under the law.
In fighting Frank and Duong, the government initially asserted that allowing long-term expats to vote would be unfair to resident Canadians who have to live with the consequences of the balloting.
An Ontario Superior Court rejected that argument last year, saying the five-year limit was arbitrary and had no bearing on an expat’s connection to Canada.
The government then argued on appeal that non-resident citizens were no longer bound by the Canadian “social contract.” In July, the Ontario Court of Appeal — in a split decision — agreed.
However, the dissenting justice said the law reduced non-residents to “second-class citizens” because of where they live.
In the leave application, Toronto lawyer Shaun O’Brien argues every Canadian citizen has a right to vote regardless of residency, and any notion of a “social contract” has no bearing.
“This court has said clearly and emphatically that social philosophy cannot be used to shield the deprivation of fundamental democratic rights from scrutiny,” the application states.
The document notes that prisoners, regardless of crime, can vote.
Frank and Duong, who live in the U.S. for work purposes, “care deeply” about Canada and hope to return, their application says.
“I hope that the Supreme Court will hear our case and recognize that all Canadian citizens, regardless of residence, have the right to vote,” Frank said in an email.
The impugned sections of the Canada Elections Act became law in 1993. However, the clock would reset if an expat returned even for a short visit. It was only under the Harper-led government that Elections Canada began enforcing the rule, catching many expats by surprise when they tried to vote by mail in 2011.
The leave application notes anomalies in the elections act related to expats: They can vote if they show up in their old ridings at an advance poll or on election day. Another is that they can run as candidates in any riding they choose, as Duchastel de Montrouge is doing.
“I am truly sorry to the people of Calgary who might be surprised that someone who has never set foot in their city can be a candidate, but that is exactly to the point,” Duchastel de Montrouge says on his website.
“Why can’t I vote in my own country? This is wrong!”
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press