Elections Canada tried to beat back ‘implausible’ online rumours about pencils spoiling ballots

Interesting how these rumours and fake news take on a life of their own and the challenges in combatting them:

A new social media monitoring team at Elections Canada spent more than 10 days responding to online disinformation claiming polling stations were using pencils that could be intentionally smudged to spoil voters’ ballots.

The story started online in Canada with purported first-hand accounts of Canadians voting during advance polling, then went wide on social media platforms — casting doubts in some voters’ minds about election security.

By Oct. 21, Elections Canada was getting angry questions from voters asking why the agency only provides pencils at polling stations, while some people tweeted out claims that the system couldn’t be trusted and the election could be “rigged.”

Elections Canada said the claims are unsubstantiated and implausible. Even if a ballot is smudged, the agency said, it would still be counted.

The department never issued a public alert during the campaign itself — suggesting the agency did not consider it to be a threat to the integrity of the election.

Online disinformation expert Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, said these reports didn’t spread widely enough to trigger voter panic — but they could still undermine public confidence in the democratic process.

“It could lead to people choosing not to cast their ballot,” said Dubois. “It could lead people to believe their system is untrustworthy, illegitimate, that it’s not even worth participating in.”

‘My X was gone’

The 2019 election marked the first time Elections Canada monitored social media during a campaign. The monitoring team’s objective was to detect false information about where, when and how to register and vote. The department reports it only detected 28 pieces of misinformation and impersonation accounts between August and election day.

Elections Canada did spend time during the campaign responding to voters’ social media queries about why pencils were offered at the polls. All the department could do was to point out that, while Elections Canada is required by law to provide black lead pencils at polling stations, voters can bring their own pens, markers or other writing tools to mark their ballots without seeing them discarded.

Some of the early social media posts about the poll pencils appeared in mid-October. One of them was an alleged first-hand account posted on Reddit about a chaotic Toronto polling station. The post said a voter handed their ballot to a clerk who opened it, looked at how they voted and smudged the X on their ballot.

“My X was gone,” said the author of the post, which has since been removed from Reddit but was copied to Facebook. “It looked like one big smudge mark … It was clear my ballot would be considered spoiled.”

The post said that the polling station refused to give the voter a new ballot. It also claimed that few at the polling station spoke English.

“I’m 100% sure the Liberals win my riding. No doubt about it,” said the post. The post was picked up and shared on other social media platforms.

From there, the posts complaining about the poll pencils snowballed.

Shauna McAllister of Nanaimo, B.C. warned voters on social media that their pencilled ballots may have been tampered with.

She told CBC News that she saw some of her Facebook friends in Alberta sharing their own stories of ballots being smudged. She said her daughter also told her about an online story alleging a voter at the Vancouver Conference Centre called police claiming her ballot being spoiled.

“If you voted by pencil. Your vote may have been tampered!,” she posted on Facebook on Oct. 24. “Revote? 1st world countries need a better system?”

McAllister said she filed a complaint with Elections Canada and called the political parties’ offices to spread the word.

CBC News told McAllister that Elections Canada officials have said there is no evidence to suggest a ballot security problem with the pencils. She said she hasn’t changed her mind.

“I don’t agree with the idea of voting in pencil,” McAllister said. “To me, that sounds like an archaic practice and it could be compromised. It’s not rocket science. I do art and I have little children and number 3 pencils. You use them because you can smudge them off.

“I think generally, If there’s a little bit of smoke, there’s a bit of fire there. So potentially there was the possibility that some people’s votes may have been compromised … Why bother trying to make your vote count?”

Why pencils?

Elections Canada said in a statement to CBC News that no part of the allegations has been substantiated.

“The events as described are implausible and do not match our records,” the department wrote.

Pencils are required by law at polling stations because they are “practical,” Elections Canada said.

“Unlike pens, they can be stored between elections without drying out,” the agency said. “Also, ink pens can blot paper; if a blot mark can be seen through the ballot paper, someone else might be able to guess who the elector voted for, thereby compromising the secrecy of the vote.”

Elections Canada added that workers at polling stations work in full view of the public and are never alone: witnesses would have reported seeing poll workers tampering with votes. Two scrutineers and party representatives are posted at every polling station, and as long as there is a mark beside a candidate’s name — even if it’s smudged — the vote counts.

No one charged with altering ballots

The agency said similar stories about poll pencils spread during recent elections in the U.K. and Australia.

CBC News tested an official pencil on a sample Elections Canada ballot. The ‘X’ smudged slightly, but not enough to distort the original mark.

The office of the Commissioner of Elections Canada confirmed it received complaints about ballots being smudged. It said no one was charged with violating the law by altering, defacing or destroying a ballot during this election.

“The complaints received did not provide factual information that would have allowed investigators to pursue the matter further,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement to CBC News.

Dubois studies the impact of disinformation on voters. She said it’s too early to tell what impact the story had without a full analysis.

She warned, however, that such messages can do damage over time, especially if the rumours aren’t dispelled before the next election.

“The vast majority of voters went, cast their ballots, no problem,” she said. “But these kinds of questions that get planted … can erode trust in democracy more broadly.

“We risk next time there being a much larger impact.”

Source: Elections Canada tried to beat back ‘implausible’ online rumours about pencils spoiling ballots

Elections Canada expects 30,000 expat voters in this election, Perrault says

In other words, a 50 percent increase from 20,000 to 30,000, suggested that former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley was right that the vast majority of expats would not be interested in voting in Canadian elections (or about 3 percent of the estimated one million Canadian expatriate citizens 18 years or older):
Elections Canada says it is on track to see the number of expats it initially expected to register and to take advantage of new rules that allow Canadians living abroad to vote no matter how long they have been out of the country.

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With Canadians living abroad now able to vote no matter how long they have been outside the country, Canada’s chief electoral officer says Elections Canada expects 30,000 expats to register, but he is urging expats to register soon.

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said after a January 2019 Supreme Court ruling that expats now have the right to vote in federal elections no matter how long they have lived outside the country, the agency predicts about 30,000 voters to take advantage of the opportunity. With now just over a month until election day on Oct. 21, the agency has seen “just above 20,000 who have registered,” he told reporters on Tuesday at a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.

Previously, non-resident citizens could not vote if they lived out of the country for more than five years.

“It’s hard to know exactly how many Canadians are living abroad—the estimate is between one to two million,” Mr. Perrault said. “At this point, it seems the numbers are what we thought.”

But Mr. Perrault urged those living away from home to register to vote sooner rather than later.

“If you look at the next week or 10 days, it’s pretty much the final stretch for most Canadians abroad to register because of the time it takes for them to return their ballots,” said Mr. Perrault.

As for election-readiness, Mr. Perrault said Elections Canada is expected to recruit 300,000 people to work the polls across the country and he encouraged Canadians who are at least 16 years of age to apply to work at polls.

“That is a very significant workforce,” he said. “I’d never say recruiting 300,000 people is not a challenge.”

This year, Mr. Perrault said, voting hours for advance polls will span four days and have extended hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14.

Mr. Perrault also said the agency is also reinforcing its efforts to reach younger and first-time voters, opening 121 offices at 109 post-secondary campuses spanning 86 electoral districts.

A 2015 pilot project saw 39 campuses host a similar service and more than 70,000 electors cast their votes.

Source: Elections Canada expects 30,000 expat voters in this election, Perrault says

Fêtes juives et scrutins: Élections Québec a reconnu des ratés

Useful background to the federal case and a reminder of the importance of preparation for advance polls in those ridings with large Jewish populations should Elections Canada stick with October 21st (as I think is justified):

La fête juive au centre du débat sur l’éventuel report de la date du scrutin fédéral a été célébrée, l’an dernier, au moment des élections provinciales. Et Élections Québec a eu beau se préparer en conséquence, l’organisme a été pris de court par les répercussions des célébrations, si bien qu’il s’est excusé auprès de la communauté juive et d’une association libérale, a appris La Presse.

Le déroulement du scrutin dans la circonscription montréalaise de D’Arcy-McGee, où habite une forte concentration d’électeurs de confession juive, a été perturbé à l’automne 2018, lors du vote par anticipation, alors qu’un nombre record de citoyens se sont rendus aux urnes, ce qui a engorgé les bureaux de scrutin.

L’attente a parfois été si longue que l’association libérale de la circonscription ainsi que le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA) ont déposé des plaintes au Directeur général des élections (DGE).

« Les délais d’attente pour voter à certains moments de la journée se sont avérés relativement longs considérant les expériences antérieures », a convenu l’adjoint au directeur général des élections et directeur des opérations électorales, Jean-François Blanchet, dans une lettre adressée à l’Association libérale de D’Arcy-McGee, dont La Presse a obtenu copie.

« Nous tenons à nous excuser des inconvénients que cette situation a pu engendrer aux membres pratiquants de la communauté juive, mais aussi à l’ensemble des électeurs. »

– Jean-François Blanchet, dans la lettre datée du 18 mars dernier

Le CIJA a aussi confirmé avoir reçu une lettre, au nom du DGE, de Pierre Reid. « On nous disait être navré des inconvénients subis par les électeurs juifs », a indiqué le directeur de la recherche et des affaires publiques, David Ouellette.

De façon plus précise, dans la lettre de M. Blanchet, le DGE reconnaît que le vote par anticipation en 2018 a connu des ratés dans D’Arcy-McGee. Le nombre d’électeurs qui ont voté de façon anticipée a « plus que quintuplé » par rapport à 2014, passant de 500 à plus de 2500.

Cet « achalandage record » doublé d’un ralentissement informatique a eu des conséquences qu’il était « difficile d’anticiper », plaide M. Blanchet dans sa missive. « Même en organisant nos bureaux de vote de façon à accueillir un plus grand nombre de personnes, il était difficilement prévisible que l’augmentation soit si importante », ajoute-t-il.

Le DGE sensibilisé

Pourtant, le député libéral actuel, David Birnbaum, et le CIJA ont confirmé qu’ils avaient sensibilisé le DGE, plusieurs mois avant les élections, à la tenue de fêtes religieuses juives pendant la période électorale. « J’étais très conscient du défi qui était devant nous », a indiqué M. Birnbaum en entrevue à La Presse.

Parce que dans une circonscription où 42 % des électeurs sont de confession juive (estimation de l’Association libérale de D’Arcy-McGee), il n’était pas difficile d’envisager, selon le député, que le vote par anticipation allait être fort populaire. Il faut dire que lors des élections de 2018, trois des cinq journées prévues pour le vote par anticipation coïncidaient avec la fête juive de Souccot.

Ce qui ne laissait aux juifs pratiquants, contraints au repos et à la prière lors de ces rituels, que deux jours pour voter par anticipation, étant donné qu’ils ne pourraient pas non plus se rendre aux urnes lors du scrutin général du 1er octobre en raison de la fête de Chemini Atseret, la même qui fait couler l’encre à Ottawa.

Une candidate conservatrice de la région de Toronto, de confession juive, s’est adressée à la Cour fédérale pour qu’Élections Canada reporte d’une semaine les élections générales. Mardi, le tribunal a ordonné à l’organisme fédéral de se pencher à nouveau sur la possibilité de modifier la date du scrutin, ce qui provoquerait tout un branle-bas.

Taux de participation à la baisse

Dans une lettre de l’Association libérale de D’Arcy-McGee, adressée au DGE en janvier dernier, la conseillère juridique de l’organisation signale « plusieurs plaintes » formulées par des électeurs libéraux.

Dans sa missive, que La Presse a pu consulter, l’association libérale fait un rapprochement entre la situation vécue et l’effondrement du taux de participation dans D’Arcy-McGee, qui est passé de 72 % en 2014 à 46,56 % en 2018. Il est à noter que le taux de participation aux élections de 2018 a été, à travers la province, le plus bas depuis 2008.

« À la suite de notre évaluation de plusieurs plaintes, nous constatons qu’il y a eu des erreurs commises et des lacunes de planification qui ont potentiellement mené à un affaiblissement du taux de participation dans notre circonscription. »

– Me Meena Khan, conseillère juridique

Elle déplore « l’attente déraisonnable » à laquelle des électeurs ont été soumis et affirme que cela en a découragé beaucoup, qui sont repartis sans avoir voté, notamment au centre communautaire et aquatique de Côte-Saint-Luc, bureau de vote décrit comme l’« épicentre de la communauté juive » de la circonscription.

Pas de changement de date

La célébration de fêtes religieuses juives coïncidant avec des élections est « une situation bien réelle » avec laquelle tant les électeurs que les candidats et les bénévoles impliqués de confession juive doivent composer, estime David Birnbaum, lui-même membre de la communauté juive. Il est d’avis que la tenue d’élections à date fixe doit maintenant faciliter la préparation de celles-ci.

C’est dans ce sens qu’il dit avoir sensibilisé le DGE afin qu’il prenne des mesures additionnelles, comme l’ajout de personnel, pour pallier le fort achalandage estimé lors du vote par anticipation.

« Le principe de base du DGE est de rendre le vote le plus accessible possible à l’intérieur des contraintes [raisonnables]. »

– David Birnbaum, député libéral de D’Arcy-McGee

« Je n’ai jamais proposé un changement de la date électorale », précise-t-il, voulant faire écho au débat actuel.

Le CIJA a confirmé avoir fait des démarches similaires à celles de M. Birnbaum.

Élections Québec a indiqué dans un courriel transmis à La Presse avoir mis en place « du personnel en nombre suffisant » lors du vote par anticipation « ainsi que des mesures adaptées pour assurer la fluidité et le bon déroulement du vote » notamment lors des journées des 21, 22 et 23 septembre 2018 en raison de la célébration de la fête juive.

L’organisme n’a pas été en mesure de confirmer l’existence de plaintes officielles.

Dans sa lettre à l’association libérale, Jean-François Blanchet assure qu’Élections Québec « prendra en considération les problèmes rencontrés [en 2018] dans la préparation des prochaines élections » et « poursuivra [ses] efforts pour faciliter la participation électorale » de la circonscription de D’Arcy-McGee.

La date des célébrations des rituels juifs est établie en fonction du calendrier hébraïque. Les élections générales québécoises de 2014 ne coïncidaient avec aucune fête religieuse juive. Il en sera de même aux prochaines élections de 2022.

Pour un amendement à la loi

L’ex-ministre libéral et ancien député de D’Arcy-McGee Lawrence Bergman a confié à La Presse souhaiter un amendement à la Loi électorale québécoise ainsi qu’à la loi canadienne afin d’éviter la situation dans laquelle se trouve actuellement Élections Canada.

« Il faudrait que la loi soit plus claire, il faudrait apporter des nuances pour préciser, non pas que le DGE peut [changer une date], mais quand le DGE doit le faire, et ce, peu importe la religion », explique-t-il. Il est d’avis que la tenue d’élections à date fixe, tant à Ottawa qu’à Québec, devrait permettre d’éviter des conflits importants.

Lawrence Bergman, qui est membre de la communauté juive, estime également que le vote par anticipation ne doit pas être la seule solution, puisque faire « sortir » le vote lors de ces journées présente aussi son lot de défis.

Source: Fêtes juives et scrutins: Élections Québec a reconnu des ratés

Reporter un vote pour des motifs religieux? Scheer s’en remet au DGE

Of note. Will see how Elections Canada responds to the court ruling to re-examine the issue:

Le chef du Parti conservateur du Canada, Andrew Scheer, se garde d’appuyer publiquement les efforts de sa candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain qui visent à repousser les prochaines élections générales afin qu’elles ne coïncident pas avec la fête juive Chemini Atseret.

Il laisse le soin au Directeur général des élections du Canada, Stéphane Perrault, de recommander, s’il le juge opportun, le report du scrutin, qui est actuellement prévu le lundi 21 octobre.

Mme Aryeh-Bain, qui brigue les suffrages dans la circonscription ontarienne de Eglinton-Lawrence sous la bannière du PCC, soutient que la Loi juive interdit aux juifs orthodoxes comme elle de faire campagne ou encore de voter de la soirée du 20 octobre à la soirée du 22 octobre.

« Il est important que tous les électeurs sachent qu’il y a beaucoup d’autres façons de voter pendant l’élection, comme le vote par anticipation et le vote directement aux bureaux d’Élections Canada dans chaque circonscription, et ce, durant toute la durée de la campagne électorale », a fait valoir M. Scheer lors de son passage au Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean mercredi.

« Il y a eu une décision de la cour et maintenant c’est à Élections Canada de prendre une décision. Nous respectons l’indépendance d’Élections Canada », a aussi dit l’homme politique en précampagne électorale au Québec.

Mardi, la Cour fédérale a demandé à Élections Canada de reconsidérer sa réponse à la demande de changement de date de scrutin soumise notamment par Mme Aryeh-Bain, la jugeant « déraisonnable ». D’ici le 1er août, l’organisme doit trouver « un équilibre » entre les droits garantis par la Charte des droits et libertés et le mandat qui lui est conféré par la Loi électorale, a soutenu la juge Ann Marie McDonald dans une décision d’une vingtaine de pages.

« Jour de rechange »

Le directeur général des élections « peut » recommander au gouvernement de tenir les élections générales soit le mardi qui suit le jour qui serait normalement le jour du scrutin, soit le lundi suivant lorsque le jour du scrutin — le troisième lundi d’octobre — « coïncide avec un jour revêtant une importance culturelle ou religieuse ou avec la tenue d’une élection provinciale ou municipale », prévoit la Loi électorale du Canada.

Ne disposant pas de liste exhaustive des journées « revêtant une importance culturelle ou religieuse » au sens de la Loi électorale, le directeur général d’Élections Canada a sollicité les avis de différents groupes, dont le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA), avant de recommander au gouvernement fédéral de convoquer les Canadiens aux urnes le lundi 21 octobre prochain, a expliqué le porte-parole d’Élections Canada, Ghislain Desjardins.

Que fera Élections Canada différemment cette fois-ci ? « L’équipe est au travail », s’est contenté de répondre M. Desjardins.

Le Nouveau Parti démocratique (NPD) encourage toute personne persuadée que ses droits fondamentaux sont lésés à recourir aux tribunaux, comme l’a fait la conservatrice Chani Aryeh-Bain. « Il est important que les Canadiens et Canadiennes puissent consulter les tribunaux chaque fois qu’ils estiment que leurs droits garantis par la Charte pourraient être violés », a dit le porte-parole en matière de réforme démocratique, Daniel Blaikie.

L’élu manitobain demande aujourd’hui au patron d’Élections Canada, Stéphane Perrault, de « prendre au sérieux la décision du tribunal et déterminer la ligne de conduite qu’il juge la plus appropriée dans les circonstances actuelles ».

M. Blaikie dit se fier au « jugement des institutions indépendantes [comme Élections Canada] afin de s’assurer que le processus ne soit ni politisé ni perçu comme tel ».

De son côté, le chef du Bloc québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, demande sans détour à M. Perrault de « garder le cap » et de maintenir la tenue des élections le lundi 21 octobre prochain. « Le multiculturalisme canadien tel qu’interprété par la Cour fédérale donnerait préséance aux demandes d’une religion ou d’une autre sur l’autorité législative de l’État en ce qui a trait au mode de fixation du jour d’un scrutin. Le directeur général des élections doit refuser ce recul de l’État laïque. La religion ne doit pas interférer avec le fonctionnement de l’État civil », a affirmé l’ex-ministre québécois.

Le président et directeur général du Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA), Shimon Koffler Fogel, se range aussi du côté d’Élections Canada. « Changer la date à ce stade entraîne des implications logistiques et financières considérables », a-t-il soutenu dans la foulée de la décision de la Cour fédérale. À ses yeux, Élections Canada « a pris d’importantes mesures, en consultation avec la communauté juive, pour que chaque électeur juif puisse voter ».

Mais, selon B’nai Brith Canada, « les implications et coûts opérationnels ne constituent pas une justification convaincante pour bafouer des droits et des libertés reconnus par la Charte ». L’association demande à Élections Canada de différer de sept jours la tenue du scrutin.

L’an dernier, des juifs orthodoxes avaient tenté de repousser les élections générales québécoises, puisqu’elles coïncidaient également avec la Chemini Atseret, mais en vain.

La ministre des Institutions démocratiques, Karina Gould, a refusé de prendre position dans le débat sur la date du prochain scrutin. Elle dit s’en remettre à Élections Canada dont la « recommandation est faite […] en toute indépendance du gouvernement ». « Il ne faut pas confondre notre respect de la loi — dans ce cas, seul le DGE a la capacité de réviser sa décision et, si besoin est, sa recommandation — avec de l’indifférence », a souligné une membre de son cabinet. « La Loi électorale du Canada ne nous permet tout simplement pas de politiser cette décision, ni de substituer notre point de vue à celui du DGE ou de la Cour », a-t-elle ajouté.

Source: Reporter un vote pour des motifs religieux? Scheer s’en remet au DGE

Article in English: Federal court orders review of election date that coincides with Jewish …https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/federal-court-orthodox-jewish-1.5222279

Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

One of the challenges in a country as diverse as Canada, is ensuring that election dates do not fall on any religious holiday or otherwise significant date.

Will be interest to see how a judge rules. Does only 17 hours of voting time compared to 60 for most voters present an unreasonable accommodation or not?

Chani Aryeh-Bain had just four days to soak in her victory before the trouble began. On April 14, 2019, the 51-year-old mother of five handily clinched the nomination to run for Parliament under the Conservative banner in her lifelong riding of Eglinton–Lawrence in midtown Toronto. She was so excited, she didn’t take a good look at the election calendar until days later. Nobody on her team did.

“We did not clue into the extent of the disadvantage immediately,” says Ira Walfish, a community activist who volunteered for Aryeh-Bain. Four days after she secured the nomination, Aryeh-Bain crafted a worried email to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, requesting he change the date of the federal election. They hoped for the best, but Walfish remembers the team’s mindset at the time: “This is not gonna go well.”

The solution could have been simple: move Canada’s federal election date to Oct. 28. The problem? The date is currently set for Oct. 21, which is also, in 2019, a somewhat obscure but important Jewish holiday called Shemini Atzeret.

Most non-Jews haven’t heard of Shemini Atzeret. (Many non-religious Jews haven’t, either; even the etymological origins of the Hebrew word “atzeret” are vague.) It is nonetheless a high holy day, following a flurry of the most sacred holidays in Judaism, which together block off huge swaths of September and October in any observant Jew’s calendar.

“Shemini Atzeret is the vacation to recover from the holiday,” writes Carla Naumburg in an article titled “In Which I Finally Figure Out What Shemini Atzeret Is”, published in Kveller, a magazine for Jewish mothers. “To just chill and take it all in, to stop, pause, hold back, and keep in.”

Aryeh-Bain and many of her team members and volunteers, including Walfish, are modern Orthodox Jews—not black-hat Hasidic, but they strictly keep kosher and observe Shabbat and other holidays. Despite Shemini Atzeret’s comical ambiguity, observant Jews are strictly forbidden from working or travelling on the day, and are instead encouraged to reflect and pray. They definitely can’t canvas constituents to vote. Indeed, they can’t even vote.

The holiday’s loose definition is perhaps why Perrault, upon seeing Aryeh-Bain’s email, did not respond with any urgency for three weeks. When he finally did, according to court documents, Perrault called the timing “unfortunate,” but noted Elections Canada did not choose the date and the election was too soon to alter.

That didn’t satisfy Aryeh-Bain, and the broader Jewish community slowly awoke to the problem at hand. Over subsequent months, Jewish leaders, activists and several Liberal MPs—including Aryeh-Bain’s incumbent opponent, Marco Mendicino—all wrote to Perrault, urging him to move the date. Failing that, community organizations hoped for some kind of compromise. Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, wrote in an op-ed in the Toronto Star that they asked Perrault to add another polling day convenient for observant Jews. “Elections Canada has never explained why it did not pursue this least-disruptive course of action,” he wrote.

The only option, after so many letters, was a legal battle. Aryeh-Bain and Walfish mounted a lawsuit against Elections Canada in June, scheduled to be heard in Toronto’s Federal Court this week, on July 16. Elections Canada is not responding to queries about it, but in March, a spokesperson told The Canadian Jewish News that voters can always use advanced polls or apply for special ballots before Oct. 15. Critics argue those measures are insufficient—data suggest 75 per cent of those Canadians who actually vote do so on election day, while three per cent choose convoluted special ballots—while even advanced polls are obscured by the minefield of autumnal Jewish holidays and weekly Shabbat services. While most Canadians will enjoy 60 hours’ worth of voting opportunities this year, observant Jews are limited to just 17.

In their application, Walfish cites a community of 75,000 observant Jews who will be directly affected by the conflicting date, while their evidence includes more than 140 concerned letters written to Elections Canada. Modern Orthodoxy is the second-most prominent sect among self-identified Jewish Canadians after Conservatism, according to a recent report by the Environics Institute; with approximately 350,000 Jews across the country, the impact of the decision could be significant.

“It’s a major problem,” Walfish emphasizes. “This keeps happening. It’s like, hello? Get out a calendar. It’s in the [Canada Elections] Act. Just move the stupid election…. They can move it if they want to. I can’t change the religion.”

Walfish points to the precedents supporting their case. In 2007, Ontario’s provincial election also coincided with Shemini Atzeret—and the government agreed to change that date. Conversely, in Oct. 2018, Elections Quebec declined to compromise after learning that, once again, it coincided with the same holiday.

“The turnout was dramatically affected,” recalls David Tordjman, a modern Orthodox candidate running this year for the Conservative Party in Mount Royal, Que. Tordjman might have even more to lose than Aryeh-Bain: last October, voter turnout in neighbouring D’Arcy-McGee, Quebec’s most densely Jewish riding, plummeted from 72 per cent to 44 per cent, due to overcrowding and hours-long lineups at poorly managed advance polling stations. This year, Tordjman sees the same frustration across social media.

“The issue, at the end of the day, is accessibility,” he says. “All we want is the same capacity and the same amount of time to vote.”

Both Tordjman’s and Aryeh-Bain’s ridings are home to more than 20,000 Jews, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, and both are potentially crumbling Liberal strongholds. Liberal Joe Volpe ran Eglinton–Lawrence for 20 years until Stephen Harper’s future finance minister, Joe Oliver, ousted him in 2011; in 2015, Mendicino narrowly won it back by fewer than 3,500 votes. Mount Royal, once Pierre Trudeau’s stalwart base, was run by legendary Jewish MP Irwin Cotler for 16 years until he resigned, passing the mantle to Liberal Anthony Housefather in 2015.

In 2019, under a simmering froth of negative sentiment toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and newly elected right-leaning provincial governments, both are potentially battleground ridings—especially Eglinton–Lawrence. As it stands, Aryeh-Bain “will be precluded from getting out the vote on the most important day of the election,” the court application states. “In short, she must fight the election with one hand tied behind her back.”

There is a very real chance, if the date remains unchanged, that Shemini Atzeret could decide the riding. If it does, this won’t be the last court battle mounted against the government—if not this election cycle, then perhaps next time an election falls on Shemini Atzeret, which can’t be too far away.

Source: Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

RCMP launch hate crime probe of leader of nationalist group vying for party status in federal election

We have always had some extremist parties running in elections:

RCMP in Saskatchewan have launched an investigation into an online video featuring the head of an extremist group that’s poised to become Canada’s next official political party.

The Canadian Nationalist Party, which promotes anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ views — and calls for the removal of “globalists” from the country “once and for all” — is in the final stages of applying to be able to collect tax-deductible political donations and run a slate of candidates in the upcoming federal election.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit watchdog group, has filed a formal complaint with both the RCMP and Elections Canada to try to derail the effort.

“This is a group that is pure and simple a hate group,” said Bernie M. Farber, the anti-hate network’s chair and a human rights consultant. “The way our laws stand today, there is nothing standing in their way save, right now, maybe 37 signatures to become an official political party here in Canada.”

Canadian Nationalist Party leader Travis Patron told CBC News there are no grounds to bar his group from official party status and that his members have not violated hate speech laws.

“To date, our party has not said a hateful word, we’ve caused no violence, and we’ve done nothing illegal,” he said in an email from Redvers, Sask., where he plans to run as a CNP candidate in October’s federal election.

‘Parasitic tribe’

RCMP in Saskatchewan confirmed they opened an investigation Wednesday into a video featuring Patron posted on the CNP website.

In it, Patron denounces what he describes as “the parasitic tribe” or “black sheep,” who he claims control the media and the central bank in Canada.

“What we need to do, perhaps more than anything, is remove these people once and for all from our country,” Patron says, speaking directly to the camera.

Farber acknowledged Patron makes no explicit reference to Jews but called the video hateful and “clearly” anti-Semitic.

“The kind of tropes that Jews have been subject to for much of our collective lives have been exactly the words used by Mr. Patron in this video — controlling the media, controlling the entertainment business,” said Farber, who is a former chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

“So, instead of using the word ‘Jews,’ which would immediately not just raise the ire of Canadians but would, I think, shine a spotlight for law enforcement … they’re trying to walk this fine line. They just don’t, in my view, do a very good job about it.”

Patron told CBC News his statements are directed at “globalists.”

“They go by many different names,” he said. “We refer to them simply as the globalists because they conduct their business everywhere while simultaneously calling no place in particular home. We would remove [them] from our country. We have no use for them.”

The RCMP say they are consulting hate crime specialists to determine whether Patron’s comments in the video contravene criminal laws against advocating genocide or hatred against an identifiable group.

Tax-supported party funding

Elections Canada has given the CNP until July 15 to provide 250 signed declarations from its members to become officially eligible as a federal political party.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network filed a complaint with Elections Canada last week denouncing the CNP as a hate group.

“For obvious reasons, we don’t want to see the CNP become a tax-supported (via contribution reimbursements) and officially recognized party,” the network’s complaint says.

“What can be done to prevent this neo-Nazi party from becoming an official party?”

Under the existing laws, not much.

Farber says Canada should follow countries like Germany that bar groups promoting anti-democratic views from registering in the political process.

“We have to be very careful in between finding that balance of our rights in a free and democratic society to gather and to create political parties and then balance that with hate speech and hate groups that are out there who are trying to destroy society.”

Pauline Beange, an Elections Canada expert at the University of Toronto, believes Canadian governments would be “very reluctant” to pass legislation restricting access to political participation.

“Basically anybody can apply to be registered,” she said. “They have to choose a name. They have to have a certain number of signatures. But after that, it is not Elections Canada’s job to decide who should or who should not become a political party.”

There is always a risk of extreme views on the left or right, she said, but whether the groups that espouse those views actually gain a political foothold is another matter.

“We have had parties on the extreme left like the Marxist-Leninist Party, the Communist Party of Canada. So, we have tolerated those. They have not hijacked democracy in any way, shape or form. And again, I rely on Canadian voters and their judgment.”

Anti-Pride

Members of the CNP, and supporters wearing party T-shirts, appeared at recent Pride celebrations in Hamilton and Toronto.

Patron says he’s reviewed numerous videos of violent clashes between protesters at those events and insists his supporters adhered to his party’s code of conduct, which prohibits incitement of violence and use of hateful language.

“Taking a look at the video footage [from Pride events], at least what has been released, I’m happy to see that our members acted with professionalism, and they stood by, and they did not cause any violence,” he told CBC News.

However, one video being circulated on social media from Toronto last weekend shows two men wearing CNP shirts taking part in the violence.

The clip, shot inside the Eaton Centre mall in downtown Toronto, shows one of the men pummelling a downed protester with a bike helmet.

Moments later, a different man wearing a CNP shirt is seen shoving a security guard.

In a video on the party’s YouTube channel, Patron calls for the defunding of Pride parades across the country. He criticizes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for “normalizing homosexuality” by appearing at Pride events.

When asked by CBC to explain his views on LGBTQ issues, he replied that homosexuality “leads to self-destruction.”

“A prerequisite for the continuity of our nationhood is that of future generations, progeny and fertility … In regards to same-sex couples, there is no biological progeny, and therefore, a nationalist government would not support such a lifestyle choice by publicly financing it.”

In a statement to CBC News, Elections Canada says the Canada Elections Act has no restrictions to bar political parties with extreme views, nor can it bar candidates or parties that are under police investigation or have a criminal record.

Only prisoners are prohibited from running for office.

Source: RCMP launch hate crime probe of leader of nationalist group vying for party status in federal election

Election Commissioner asked to probe Conservative Party ties to Chinese-Canadian conservative groups

Valid question that should be asked of any similar efforts by non-profit organizations in favour of any political party. The Conservatives are particularly strong among Chinese Canadians:

Federal Elections Commissioner Yves Cote has been formally asked to investigate the relationship between the Conservative Party and 10 Chinese-Canadian conservative non-profit organizations for possible breaches of election laws.

The Liberal and NDP parties both sent letters to Mr. Cote’s office on Monday, saying an official probe is required to determine if there is collusion between the Conservatives and wealthy Toronto developer Ted Jiancheng Zhou and the non-profit groups he set up to help the party win support within the Chinese-Canadian community.

Mr. Zhou, a former Liberal donor who has condominium projects in Canada and China, set up Chinese-Canadian conservative groups in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario as well as a national organization called the Federation of Chinese Canadian Conservatives (FCCC). The stated purpose of the FCCC is to assist the “Conservative Party to develop new members; disseminating ideas and policies of the Conservative Party; assisting the Conservative Party to educate and train candidates, party members and to develop volunteers.”

In his letter, NDP MP Nathan Cullen asked Mr. Cote to initiate a “formal investigation” to determine if Mr. Zhou and the Conservatives are co-ordinating their political activities “to circumvent contribution limits” in “potential contravention of election laws.”

Liberal MP Marco Mendicino wrote to Mr. Cote that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Conservative Party of Canada and the FCCC are co-ordinating efforts to use the latter organization as a parallel political entity – akin to a Political Action Committee – which could violate the Canada Elections Act.”

The Elections Act says it is illegal for any outside or non-profit groups to be used as vehicles to evade the spending and contribution limits imposed on political parties. Canadian political financing rules restrict donations to parties or candidates to $1,575 a year and consider provisions of services or goods without charge to be non-monetary contributions subject to the same limits.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office denied on Monday that Mr. Zhou’s organizations are involved in fundraising or helping his party to elect MPs in next year’s general election.

“The FCCC is playing no role for the Conservative Party of Canada or the Conservative Fund, no caucus members are involved in the FCCC,” communications director Brock Harrison said in an e-mail. “As far as Mr. Zhou is concerned, he does not have a role either in fundraising or organizing on the party’s behalf … He has organized the FCCC as an independent group of Chinese Canadians who want to promote conservative values in their community.”

Mr. Zhou has also denied any wrongdoing and insists he is not acting as an arm of the Conservative Party. He asserts he set up that network to promote small-c conservative causes within the Chinese-Canadian community.

The businessman made a maximum donation of $1,500 in June, 2016, to the Liberal Party and $400 in May, 2017, before switching his allegiance to the Conservatives. He said his organizations do not violate federal election laws and “we have no intention to fund raise for any candidate or the Conservative Party.”

But Canada’s former long-serving chief electoral officer told The Globe and Mail that an Elections Commission investigation is warranted into whether there was an attempt to skirt the contribution limits under the Canada Elections Act.

“It raises the questions about collusion and these are matters that should be looked at frankly in order to satisfy Canadians that the financial provisions of our status – which makes Canada a leader in this field – are being respected,” said Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who served as chief electoral officer from 1990-2007.

For example, Mr. Kingsley said, it would be collusion if non-profit or third-party organizations provided a list of volunteers to a political party or provided any other form of non-monetary benefit.

An official for the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which conducts investigations into electoral matters, says the agency can’t discuss a probe or confirm whether a particular incident is being investigated. However, Mr. Kingsley said a formal request from either MPs or the public usually triggers an investigation by the commissioner’s office.

The Liberals and the NDP also want Mr. Cote to investigate a Nov. 9 rally and dinner in Richmond Hill, Ont., that featured Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and at least 10 other MPs and senators for the inauguration of Mr. Zhou’s FCCC. Tickets were priced at $70, or $100 for VIPs, an amount that would have collected between $45,500 and $65,000, depending on the mix of ticket sales. Food and rental space cost $35,750.

A video of the rally showed former Conservative MP Chungsen Leung, who is on the FCCC advisory board, urging the crowd to “volunteer or to donate to the Conservative Party,” and Ontario PC MPP Aris Babikian said: “Without your support, manpower and financial [help] we would not be able to do it. So let’s work together to bring Andrew Scheer as the next Prime Minister of Canada.”

Mr. Zhou said there was no money left over from the event. “We raised barely enough to pay for the event itself. All the money raised are used for the event expenses,” he said in an e-mail. Expenses incurred could still qualify as a non-monetary political contribution, according to Elections Canada.

Source:     Election Commissioner asked to probe Conservative Party ties to Chinese-Canadian conservative groups Robert Fife and Steven Chase November 19, 2018     

Confusing vote rules for expats ‘ridiculous;’ Elections Canada denies blame

More on expatriate voting and the rules that apply:

The finger-pointing highlights the confusing rules in play, which include:

  • Long-term expats, with some exceptions such as diplomats, cannot vote from abroad;
  • Long-term expats can vote in person at an advance poll or on election day in the riding they lived in before leaving Canada;
  • Long-term expats cannot vote under rules allowing resident Canadians, who will be away during the voting period, to vote at their local returning office;
  • Long-term expats can run in any riding in the country, if they meet other basic requirements;
  • Long-term expats who become candidates cannot vote for themselves, unless running in the riding in which they last lived before leaving Canada.

The current situation is patently absurd, O’Kurley said.

“All this ridiculous hair-splitting over time and place would be so unnecessary if the only litmus test for voting was citizenship,” O’Kurley said. “Policies that suppress Canadians’ ability to participate in their democracy are not worthy of Canadian democratic leadership in the world.”

O’Kurley noted that Elections Canada facilitates voting for long-term expats who work for the Canadian government, but not if they work for a private Canadian company.

Elections Canada conceded the legislation can be confusing but said it only enforces rules made by government _ and it’s up to government to fix any problems.

While I disagree with Kurley (perhaps a better test would be citizenship and filing a Canadian tax return would a future government wish to go down that road), making the rules clearer and more consistent should be doable.

Source: Confusing vote rules for expats ‘ridiculous;’ Elections Canada denies blame