27 March 2014
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), a national self-help organization working for an accessible and inclusive Canada, recommends the removal of provisions in Bill C-23 (Fair Elections) that will have the effect of disenfranchising some persons with disabilities and/or slowing barrier removal.
CCD acknowledges that these effects were unintended but stresses that consultation with organizations of people with disabilities is necessary to prevent harmful unintended effects that further marginalize Canadians with disabilities.
For far too long, paternalism was the prevailing attitude toward people with disabilities in western societies. To correct negative stereotypes about disability, Canadians with disabilities have been speaking out and taking their rightful place in all areas of Canadian life by causing the removal of barriers to participation. People with disabilities are committed to voting, because voting is a civic responsibility.
To improve access to the electoral process, people with disabilities have made recommendations for law reform and have used the courts and tribunals to achieve better access. This presentation follows in that tradition.
Statistics about Prevalence of Disability
In 2012, about 3.8 million people, or 13.7% of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported being limited in their daily activities because of a disability. The results come from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD).
The prevalence of disability increases steadily with age. 1 in 10 working-age Canadians (aged 15 to 64) reported having a disability in 2012, compared with just over one-third of Canadian seniors (aged 65 and older). Women (14.9%) have a higher prevalence of disability than men (12.5%).
Public Education and Information Programs
While CCD acknowledges that Bill C-23 empowers the Chief Electoral Officer to inform the public about accessibility, CCD regrets that the Bill removes the Chief Electoral Officer’s power to promote democratic participation. (The Canada Elections Act (S.C. 2000) enabled Elections Canada to promote voting to “persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.”) This promotional role is needed because historical disadvantage has prevented some people with disabilities from having barrier-free access to information and learning opportunities. Accessible and inclusive public education programs can bridge information gaps. For example, Elections Canada has made plain language information about voting available to CCD, for distribution to its members. Accessible plain language information promoting electoral participation is valued by members of the disability community.
Civic engagement information, which is inclusive of people with disabilities, serves to educate all Canadians about how people with disabilities are voters, candidates and workers in Canadian elections, how elections can be made accessible for all and how to accommodate persons with disabilities in the electoral process. For example, in April 2004, Elections Canada’s journal Electoral Insight published three articles that examined democratic engagement by persons with disabilities. This type of information alters public perceptions and attitudes about people with disabilities.
CCD recommends that the Chief Electoral Officer continue to have the authority to implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public, including persons with disabilities. (See Appendix 1.)
Alternative Voting Processes
The printed paper ballot remains a mainstay of Canadian federal elections. For some members of the disability community, print continues to be a significant barrier. If print is a barrier for a voter, he/she cannot independently verify that his/her ballot has been marked correctly.
An inclusive and accessible balloting process would include the option for alternate telephone or electronic voting processes, which would allow for independent verification by people for whom print is a barrier.
To achieve fully inclusive and accessible voting, Canada must continue testing alternative electronic voting processes, as was done in the 29 November 2010 federal by-election in Winnipeg North. CCD opposes the requirement in Bill C-23 for approval by the Senate and the House of Commons for a test of an alternative electronic voting process. Currently, tests of alternative voting methods only require “the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters”. CCD believes that it is unfair to demand a higher level of approval for tests that would benefit Canadians for whom print is a barrier. CCD urges that tests of alternative electronic voting processes require committee approval and not Senate and House of Commons approval.
Voter Identification Rules
In the “Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer on Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts” (6 March 2014), there is a full elaboration of the barriers that will be created by Bill C-23’s proposal to “modify voter identification rules by eliminating vouching and prohibiting the use of the voter information card the VIC- as one of the documents that could be used to establish the elector’s address.” The Chief Electoral Officer explains how these measures will disenfranchise youth, First Nations electors on reserve and seniors. CCD would like to add that there is a higher rate of disability in the First Nations community and that the disability rate increases with age. The Chief Electoral Officer shared the following scenario,
For example, seniors who live in long-term care facilities (and who vote there) do not have drivers’ licenses, hydro bills or even health cards, which are typically kept by their children or facility administrators. By law, they cannot be vouched for by other residents in the same poll who also lack adequate ID; and they cannot be vouched for by staff who do not reside there. In most cases, they can rely on a letter of attestation issued by facility administrators (combined with another document, such as an ID bracelet). But some administrators feel they do not have the resources to issue such letters and, in fact, refuse do so. For electors in that situation, the only document establishing their address is their voter information card.
CCD would like to add that people with disabilities are another group who reside in long-term care facilities and who would have the same difficulties proving their address described by the Chief Electoral Officer.
Vouching Bill C-23 repeals the provisions on vouching. Vouching means that an elector without proof of identity or residence may still vote by taking an oath if he/she is accompanied by an elector of the same polling division who provides the poll official his/her proof of identity and residence and vouches for the elector under oath. As the Chief Electoral Officer has pointed out, and CCD concurs, vouching is a safety net for people without identification and residence documents. People with disabilities are experiencing homelessness because of a lack of accessible and affordable housing. Repealing vouching provisions will disenfranchise homeless people with disabilities. As there has not been a rash of voter fraud, CCD argues that the vouching safety net should remain in place so that there is still a means by which homeless people with disabilities can cast their ballot.
Bill C-23 separates the functions of administering elections and the enforcement of election law. Under Bill C-23, enforcement falls to the Commissioner of Canada Elections who will be housed in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) is a federal government organization, established by the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. The PPSC is an independent organization that reports to Parliament through the Attorney General of Canada. To safeguard democratic principles, CCD believes that the Commissioner of Canada Elections should report directly to Parliament, as does the Chief Electoral Officer and the Auditor General. The Commissioner of Canada Elections should work for Parliament and not the Attorney General of Canada.
CCD is concerned about the exception found in Bill C-23’s amendments regarding contribution limits (367 (5) and 367 (7) (a) and (b)). Bill C-23 is proposing an exception which will allow candidates to make increased campaign contributions out of their own funds. CCD believes the exception will provide an advantage to affluent candidates. The exception is of concern to CCD because people with disabilities experience a disproportionate rate of poverty. The amendment would put less affluent candidates at a disadvantage.
Elections Canada. 2014. Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer on Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
Canada Elections Act (S.C. 2000, c. 9)
18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.
Marginal note: Communication with the public
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer may, using any media or other means that he or she considers appropriate, provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information relating to Canada’s electoral process, the democratic right to vote and how to be a candidate.
Marginal note: Information outside Canada
(3) The Chief Electoral Officer may establish programs to disseminate information outside Canada concerning how to vote under Part 11.
Electronic voting process
18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters.
2000, c. 9, s. 18.1;
2001, c. 21, s. 2.
C-23 Clause 7. Section 18 of the Act is replaced by the following:
Communication with electors
18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:
(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the elector on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot.
Communication with electors with disabilities
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that any information provided under subsection (1) is accessible to electors with disabilities.
(3) The Chief Electoral Officer shall not provide information under this section by the use of calls, as defined in section 348.01, that are unsolicited.
Alternative voting process
18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting processes, and may devise and test an alternative voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters or, in the case of an alternative electronic voting process, without the prior approval of the Senate and the House of Commons.
367. (1) Subject to subsection 373(4), no individual shall make contributions that exceed
(a) $1,200 in total in any calendar year to a particular registered party;
(b) $1,200 in total in any calendar year to the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a particular registered party;
(c) $1,200 in total to a candidate for a particular election who is not the candidate of a registered party; and
(d) $1,200 in total in any calendar year to the leadership contestants in a particular leadership contest.
(2) A contribution may be made by way of a testamentary disposition if the contribution is made only in one calendar year and does not cause the contributor to exceed the relevant limit under subsection (1), taking into account any contributions that the contributor made before their death.
Non-conforming testamentary dispositions read down
(3) A testamentary disposition that provides for a contribution that would cause the contributor to exceed the relevant limit under subsection (1) shall be read as if the contribution is for the highest amount that would not cause the contributor to exceed that limit, and a testamentary disposition that provides for a contribution to be made in more than one calendar year after the year in which this subsection comes into force shall be read as if the contribution is to be made only in the first of those calendar years.
Attribution of certain contributions
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), a contribution to a person who presents themselves as seeking the endorsement of a particular registered party is to be treated as a contribution referred to in paragraph (1)(b) to a candidate of that party and a contribution to a person who presents themselves as seeking to be a candidate not endorsed by any registered party is to be treated as a contribution referred to in paragraph (1)(c).
Exception nomination contestant’s contributions to own campaign
(5) Contributions that do not exceed $1,000 in total by a nomination contestant out of their own funds to their own campaign as a nomination contestant do not count towards the nomination contestant’s contributions for the purposes of paragraph (1)(b).
Contributions candidates and leadership contestants
(6) Subject to subsection (7), no candidate in a particular election and no leadership contestant in a particular leadership contest shall make a contribution out of their own funds to their own campaign.
Exception certain contributions to own campaign
(7) The following contributions are permitted:
(a) contributions that do not exceed $5,000 in total by a candidate for a particular election out of their own funds to their own campaign; and
(b) contributions that do not exceed $25,000 in total by a leadership contestant in a particular leadership contest out of their own funds to their own campaign.
Contributions under subsection (1) not affected
(8) Contributions made under subsection (7) do not have the effect of reducing the amounts that the candidate or leadership contestant, as the case may be, may contribute under subsection (1) to other candidates or to other leadership contestants, as the case may be.
Prohibition circumventing limits
368. (1) No person or entity shall
(a) circumvent, or attempt to circumvent, the prohibition under subsection 363(1) or 367(6) or a limit set out in subsection 367(1) or (7) or section 371; or
(b) act in collusion with another person or entity for that purpose.
Prohibition concealing source of contribution
(2) No person or entity shall
(a) conceal, or attempt to conceal, the identity of the source of a contribution governed by this Act; or
(b) act in collusion with another person or entity for that purpose.
Prohibition accepting excessive contributions
(3) No person who is permitted to accept contributions under this Act shall knowingly accept a contribution that exceeds a limit under this Act.
(4) No person or entity shall enter into an agreement for the provision for payment of goods or services, directly or indirectly, to a registered party or a candidate that includes a term that any individual will make a contribution, directly or indirectly, to a registered party, a registered association, a nomination contestant, a candidate or a leadership contestant.