Voter Suppression in 2014 Quebec Election

Something tells me we won't be seeing major protests against voter suppression...
Something tells me we won’t be seeing major protests against voter suppression…

Hundreds of people have been turned away from voter registration centres in the Montreal region, notably in the Westmount-St-Louis and Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques ridings, because they ‘lack the intent’ to stay, live and work in Quebec.

Nearly all of these people have something in common. They are students who were not born here.

The story broke two days ago when Dune Desormeaux (yes, you read that right, his last name is Desormeaux, as in Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, hero of the colonists of Ville-Marie) and another McGill student, Angela Larose (yeah – you can’t make this up) were both denied the right to register to vote because a reporting officer indicated they lacked the ‘intent’ to stay in Quebec and could not be considered domiciled here.

The basic minimum requirement to vote in Quebec provincial elections is very straightforward.

You must be of majority age, a Canadian citizen and have been domiciled in the province for at least six months. You also can’t be in provincial custodianship or a criminal in order to exercise your democratic right.

The reason so many were refused the right to vote comes down to the interpretation of the word ‘domicile’. According to the students interviewed over the last two days almost all of them indicated reporting officers took issue with the fact that they didn’t have Quebec medicare cards to prove their identities. When they indicated the reason was because they’re students and therefore can’t apply for medicare cards they were told the *clearly* lack the intent to stay in Quebec and thus cannot be considered as domiciled in Quebec.

It is a ruthlessly rigid interpretation of the law that is so extreme it begs the question – why are frontline elections officers judging people’s intent in the first place?

And is it really fair to question university students about their long-term plans?

And wouldn’t a more open interpretation of the intent rule subsequently result in more people voting and more people feeling attached and integrated into Quebec society?

Would you want to stay in a place that wouldn’t allow you the right to vote, despite the fact that you have all reasonable proof of that right?

Arielle Vaniderstine is a first-year McGill University student who was one of at least three I can verify who were told they can’t vote because their lack of a medicare card ‘proved’ their lack of intent to stay in Quebec. She had initially been told her registration was cleared but this decision was reversed the following day. She’s been living in Montreal since last June, is over the age of majority and a Canadian citizen. She proved her identity and address with the following documents: a passport, a birth certificate and a Hydro-Québec bill from last summer.

When I spoke with her yesterday she was troubled by the decision and her lack of recourse. She told me her first paying job was in Quebec and that she’s filing Quebec tax documents. She came here from Prince Edward Island because she wanted to experience Montreal and Quebec and develop her French language skills. She told me specifically that she wants to vote because it’s part of her intent to integrate into Quebec society and that our politics inspired her to exercise the only real political power any of us really have – our sole vote.

Unfortunately for Ms. Vaniderstine and the apparently hundreds of others turned away from registration centres in downtown Montreal the decisions of the reporting officers are final.

Worse still, after speaking with Elections Quebec spokesperson Denis Dion, it seems that there’s an almost ‘church and state’ like separation between the reporting officers and the elections board. Monsieur Dion told me the only real recourse is to take the matter up with the courts.

As you might imagine it’s unlikely this will happen. Students aren’t exactly rolling in the dough, so to speak, and they can’t possibly be expected to have the kind of scratch necessary to pursue this through the court system. A freshman could very well have graduated by the time the courts get around to hearing the case. Again, this really doesn’t encourage anyone to stay and fight for their rights.
It’s 2014 and people who have every right to vote in Quebec elections are being told they can’t.

Considering we still have segregated schools and rampant Islamophobia in our province, this should come as no surprise.

***

Now here’s where things get really shitty.

We live in a province where at least one political ideology is given carte-blanche on insane conspiracy theories.

Such as:

‘The FLQ was an RCMP false-flag operation to discredit the separatist movement’

‘The 1995 Quebec Referendum was stolen by federalists’

‘Official bilingualism is cultural genocide’

And according to the now resigned head of the Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques (SMSJ herein) electoral reporting office in downtown Montreal, “it’s as if Trudeau airport were wide open and someone was passing out visas without asking any questions”. Mathieu Vandal resigned from his post Friday, saying he couldn’t cope with the abnormal influx of Anglophone and Allophone voters looking to register.

This is the kind of person put in charge of registering citizens to exercise their fundamental democratic rights.

And if that doesn’t make you cringe I don’t know what will.

Today’s news is that Pauline Marois is concerned about ‘electoral fraud’ in the adjoining ridings of SMSJ and Westmount-Saint-Louis and has indicated she’d like Elections Quebec to investigate. To be precise, the fraud she wants investigated isn’t voters being defrauded from their democratic right to vote. She wants an investigation into why so many Anglophone and Allophone voters have suddenly shown up to register in these ridings, insinuating she believes Mathieu Vandals’ initial, ignorant assertions.

The fact of the matter is that these ridings happen to have a lot of students and immigrants – two groups of people historically disenfranchised from local and provincial politics – who suddenly have every reason to vote against the proposed Charter of Values.

For these people, the charter represents everything wrong with this province, and all that we’re not. These people came here for a reason – because we are open, tolerant, cosmopolitan – and now a charter to institutionalize racism threatens all that is fundamentally good about this province.

It’s the kind of political issue so important it actually encourages people to get involved in politics. It should be very clear to everyone with the least political common sense in this province that the apparent increase in voter registration is not because of some vast federalist conspiracy to stick it to Pauline Marois.

Pauline Marois has brought this upon herself.

It demonstrates what kind of fantasy land the PQ and other separatists live in. They either don’t want to recognize our changing demographics or turn the tide by actually making it unnecessarily difficult for people to become Québécois. The charter and voter suppression are ways to make it uncomfortable for young people and immigrants sold on an ideal of liberalism and social democracy in Quebec. For Ms. Marois to take allegations of voter fraud seriously, it demonstrates she is no better than the kinds of delusional ultra nationalists that make up her voting base.

And by the way, who else is so pre-occupied with apparent (though in reality non-existent) voter fraud?

Tories. The Tories are so worried about voter fraud they’ve proposed the Fair Elections Act, an Orwellian document condemned for its overt anti-democratic tendencies by international experts.

Exactly the kinds of people both separatists and Tories have absolutely no interest in.

I’ll be following this story closely. More to come I’m sure.

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