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Court grants student right to vote in provincial elections

A McGill student who filed a court challenge for being refused voter registration was able to cast his vote on Monday, following the ruling of Quebec’s Superior Court.

Brendan Edge, U2 Arts,  was one of five McGill students who filed the challenge against the Director General of the Elections of Quebec (DGE) on April 1.

Edge, who is also a candidate for the Green Party in the Chomedey riding, was added to the voters list by a court order on April 4—one day after the special revision period for voter registration.

The five students filed the challenge after being turned away from their local revision offices the previous week. The students were told they had not been “domiciled” in Quebec for at least six months before the election, which is a requirement to vote under Quebec law.

Edge attempted to register as a voter after registering as a candidate, but was told that the documents he brought with him did not constitute enough proof of domicile to register as a voter. Moreover, he was also told he was not a candidate in the election, despite appearing on the candidates’ list on the DGE’s website.

According to Jason Chung, a graduate of the McGill Faculty of Law, the process of establishing domicile is a challenging question  that has seen uneven—and possibly selective—enforcement this election. Chung is the founder and moderator of the Quebec Voter Support Network, a Facebook group that allows voters to solicit information from law students, law graduates, and lawyers on the registration process and voters’ rights.

“Based on the comments that [the group has] received, it seemed that the biggest frustration was that everything was done in an ad-hoc manner,” Chung said. “[The process] wasn’t very transparent [regarding] what documents were requested and it seemed arbitrary.”

A clarifying statement from the DGE published on March 22 states that domicile is “demonstrated by intention” and is defined as “the place a person considers to be his or her principal establishment, gives as a reference for the exercise of his or her civil rights, and indicates publicly as being his or her domicile.”

According to the release, the board of revisors may request documents such as a Quebec health insurance card, a Quebec driver’s licence, or income tax returns made to Quebec as evidence of intention.

However, according to a document published by the Quebec Voter Support Network, domicile “can be established in the absence of these criteria” as long as the applicant can establish intent to make Quebec his or her principal residence.

According to the students present at the ruling on Friday, the judge did not consider the other four students’ situations to warrant a court injunction.

“[According to the judge], an injunction should only be granted in the most pressing circumstances,” Simren Sandhu, another student involved in the court challenge, said. “Brendan [Edge]’s situation was unusual. For [the rest of] us, [the issue of eligibility] could be sorted out after the election, the judge said.”

According to Sandhu, the judge ruled that he and another student, Arielle Vaniderstein, were not eligible to vote because they had reached the age of majority fewer than six months before the election. The judge did not consider the months spent residing in Quebec before the age of majority to count toward the domicile requirement.

The other two students, Matthew Satterthwaite and James Hallifax, were also denied permission to vote because it was difficult to determine how long they had lived in Quebec.

According to Edge, though the four students were not added to the voters list, their case was not terminated by the ruling in April—the court will be back in session later this month.

“[While] the judge ruled that the electoral officers were within their right to refuse [the other four students’] registration […] this comes down to the question of domicile [and] how that is clarified,” Edge said. “It’s a complex issue, and [we’re] told it’s not one to be decided upon during an election campaign.”

Chung is also in the process of collecting data from a survey in the Facebook group, particularly with regard to the documents that were requested from voters intending to register and the justifications behind those requests. The goal is to publish a report on trends that the data indicates.

The remaining students in the court challenge hope the process will lead to a clarification of the law.

“Ideally, we were hoping we could get the right to vote too […] but we are pleased to have shed a spotlight [on] the issue of [establishing] domicile,” Sandhu said. “Whoever forms government will know they need to take a closer look at this [issue] for next time.”

The DGE declined to comment on the court’s ruling.

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