Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, changes many rules around voting to make it much more difficult for potential voters to cast ballots.
By Laura Cattari
Published April 22, 2014
The experience of falling into poverty often results in lost opportunities, but if new government proposals on the way Canadians vote come into effect, individuals living in poverty and other groups in society may soon lose key fundamental rights.
Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, changes many rules around voting. In short, it makes it much more difficult for potential voters to cast ballots.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. Yet changes in bill C-23 may disenfranchise thousands of voters in Hamilton and tens of thousands of other Canadians who are precariously housed or homeless.
Other groups in society are affected as well - including seniors, students, persons with disabilities, recent citizens and aboriginals.
Vouch voting is not solely about proving identity but also proving where a voter lives. The removal of vouch voting in C-23 will affect the approximately 4000 individual men and women who use in an emergency shelters in Hamilton each year as well as the estimated 3000 to 6500 women alone who live in hidden homelessness.
In January, 2014 there were 5,503 Hamilton households with an active application for the affordable housing waitlist and 46% of low-income renters were considered at risk of homelessness because they are currently paying more than 50% of their incomes on housing.
Studies have found that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population. The reasons for moving vary when unplanned or involuntary circumstances occur, such as economic eviction, foreclosure, illness and/or job loss.
If these events occur four to six weeks before an election, citizens may lose their ability to provide proof of residence. For people who are homeless, absolute or hidden, it is often impossible to provide proof of residence at all.
On top of these challenges, individuals experiencing poverty can and do experience more theft on average: resulting in stolen identification.
The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has always acknowledged the link between poverty and social inclusion. Low income voters already have a much lower rate of voter participation than the general population.
If the changes described in Bill C-23 come into effect the effect, the results may be a deeper suppression of voters who experience extreme poverty. The impact on public policy choices will follow.
The Fair Elections Act also proposes the removal of Elections Canada's ability to provide non-partisan materials to teachers and community organizations about the democratic system and the importance of voting. If this happens, voter turnout will further erode. An Elections Canada evaluation of its student vote program showed that it had increased students' knowledge of politics and the electoral progress. Bill C-23 could also affect access to information about our political process for new Canadians.
The right to vote is at the very heart of democracy. The disenfranchisement of any Canadian in this process is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Any allowed erosion of that Charter challenges the freedoms of us all. For this reason, the changes proposed Fair Elections Act should be important to all Hamiltonians.
The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and community partners are holding an information session on the Fair Elections Act on Friday, April 25 in Council Chambers of City Hall.
Starting at 9:30 AM, community groups and members of the public will have the opportunity to share their concerns about the 'Fair Elections Act'. Several local Members of Parliament will be attendance and have committed to bring what they hear back to Ottawa as part of the debate on Bill C-23.
You are encouraged to attend and make your voice heard!
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