Once more, I and over 1.4 million other Canadians have been stripped of our constitutional right to have a say in how our country is governed. In mid-July, the government (using more than $1.3 million of YOUR tax dollars, I should point out) won their appeal to have Canadians residing abroad denied the right to vote in Canadian federal elections.
Perhaps one of the most disheartening parts about it is the number of Canadians who are ok with their fellow citizens being denied their constitutional right to vote. I’ve heard from several people who say to me something along the lines of, “Well, it would be ok for YOU to vote, you’re still closely tied to Canada. It’s others I wouldn’t want to be able to vote.” Which others? Why is it ok to discriminate against other citizens? What makes my (or your) citizenship more “worthy” than someone else’s?
Who we are
There seems a prevalent fear of so-called “citizens of convenience;” those only interested in maintaining their Canadian citizenship so that Canada will rescue them if they get caught in a bind abroad. I’m sure there are some people who have a Canadian passport for that reason alone, but they are few and most likely, they’re not voting. Friend, there is nothing “convenient” about voting abroad. Trust me, if someone is jumping through the numerous (and ever-changing) hoops in order to vote from abroad, they care about Canada and what’s happening there. And perhaps they have even learned valuable lessons during their time abroad that could benefit Canada and Canadians.
That brings me to my next point. Have you ever stopped to consider why a Canadian might live abroad? Canada is arguably one of the best countries on earth in which to reside (depending, of course, on who you are; but that is a discussion for another post.) So why would a Canadian choose to live somewhere else? I can’t speak for all of us living abroad, obviously. For some, they go where the work is. For others, they move for love. In my case, I like to say I have the honour of one foot in each of the two best countries on earth: Canada and Norway. I won the lottery of life by being born in Canada and I am – and always will be – first and foremost Canadian. But speaking frankly, Norway is a better country in which to raise a family. My family and I have it better in Norway than we would in Canada. I sense some of you signing out at this point. “If Norway’s so much better than Canada, why don’t you just become a Norwegian, live out your life there and shut up about it already?” Because I am Canadian. Because I passionately LOVE my country. Because I believe Canada has the possibility to be THE best country on earth. And I want to help make it that way.
Am I really affected?
There is a lot of rhetoric about decisions made in Canada not affecting Canadians living abroad. To be blunt: that’s bullshit. I’ve already outlined above how it affects me in terms of where I’ll raise my family (as much as I would truly love to live together with my family in Canada.) Further to that, laws that are passed in Canada still absolutely affect me and others living abroad. How familiar are you with Bill C-24, which came into effect in June 2015? Under that, a Canadian citizen who has dual citizenship with another nation – or even just the possibility of citizenship with another nation, such as through a parent, grandparent or spouse – can have their Canadian citizenship stripped. Now, this doesn’t only affect Canadians living abroad. There are some of you who have never lived abroad who could still have your citizenship stripped and find yourself extradited. But it affects me only because I live abroad. I was born and raised in Canada. I only hold Canadian citizenship (as will be the case for as long as Norway does not allow dual citizenship, as I will never willingly give up my Canadian citizenship. See above.) Since I have lived in Norway for a certain length of time, however, I have the possibility to apply for citizenship. And in spite of the fact that I don’t intend to apply for Norwegian citizenship, that’s enough to dump me into the second-class citizen category as far as Canada is concerned. That’s enough to make me a candidate for losing my Canadian citizenship should I “step out of line” – the boundaries of which have also been expanded. You can read more about the concerns surrounding this bill from the Canadian Bar Association.
So how does one “step out of line” enough to potentially lose one’s citizenship? Well, if you engage in “treachery or terrorism,” you could lose your citizenship. That probably sounds reasonable, right? Conveniently, however, the government has also passed a bill (Bill C-51) expanding what is considered “terrorism.” Environmental activism, even non-violent, could potentially get your name jotted down on a terrorist watch list. Under this bill, engaging in activities that are “contrary to Canada’s economic interests” could get you convicted under this bill. Disagree with Canada’s petroleum expansion? Terrorist. Along with others, Amnesty International has voiced concern about this bill’s lack of adherence to international human rights requirements, yet it still passed.
Yeah, but you’re not affected by ALL the decisions made here
It’s true, a Canadian citizen living abroad isn’t affected by all the decisions the federal government makes. Then again, neither is a citizen actually residing in Canada. Mark MacKinnon said it well in his “I am Canadian – but not as much as I used to be” post when he stated:
“Given that our electoral system is designed in such a way that voters in, for instance, Prince Edward Island send representatives to the House of Commons, who then vote on their behalf on issues as distant and unrelated to daily life in P.E.I. as fisheries policy in the Fraser River, it seems an odd complaint.”
None of us – not one, single Canadian residing in either Canada or abroad – is affected by every single decision made at the federal level. And yet, when Canada makes foreign policy decisions, or when Canadian politicians simply comment on foreign affairs, it often more acutely affects those of us living abroad than it does Canadians residing within Canada. Russia, anyone? Canada’s official stance on the Israel/Palestine situation? Or how about how up until recently, a Canadian travelling to the United Arab Emirates for work (myself included) paid extra, particularly steep visa fees because of a federal level spat between the two nations? And when the Canadian government fails to meet it’s climate action agreements, it’s those of us living abroad who hear about it regularly (in spite of us not being able to vote for change…) More importantly, though, for those of us who travel frequently, Canada’s foreign policy can literally make a life-altering difference. Decisions the federal government makes can cause those of us traveling with Canadian passports to become targets. I’d say that’s a pretty big deal.
If you just paid taxes…
For some, the issue is about taxation. “No representation without taxation!” Aside from the fact that voting is not (and should not!) be contingent on whether one pays income tax or not (given there are many Canadians residing in Canada who don’t pay income tax yet can – and should be permitted to – vote), many Canadians living abroad ARE paying taxes. Personally, I don’t have to pay income tax in Canada at the moment, because of the tax agreement between Canada and Norway, put in place to avoid double taxation (and believe me, I’m paying a good deal more in taxes in Norway than I would in Canada!) But nor do I take advantage of the social benefits covered by Canadian taxes such as healthcare. All that said, many Canadians abroad DO pay taxes to Canada – to the tune of some $6 billion annually – and yet are not able to vote. In my case, I would happily (ok, not so happily, given it would be a pointless and costly – wasting YOUR tax dollars – exercise) file tax papers to Canada each year, if it gave me the right to vote. Taxation is not a guarantee of the right to vote, nor is lack of taxation a valid reason to deny a citizen of legal voting age their constitutional right to vote.
So what’s this really about?
The Conservatives would have you believe they are denying 1.4 million Canadians the right to vote because it protects YOU as a Canadian residing in Canada, that it protects the value of your vote. That’s not what this is truly about. Those of us being denied the right to vote because we live abroad are part of a larger push to deny as many citizens as possible the right to vote. Why? Power. Control. Even within Canadian borders, the Conservatives are bringing in laws – for example, the voter identification provisions of the ironically named “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-24 again) – that make voting more difficult, particularly for certain minority groups such as First Nations people living on reserve. It’s not an accident.
If I were permitted to vote this coming election, the riding in which I’d cast my vote is one in which the party I vote for is a shoe-in already. So in that sense, whether or not I am able to vote doesn’t really matter. But the bigger picture DOES matter. The disenfranchising of millions of Canadians – both in Canada and abroad – DOES matter. I love my country and I, for one, want better for it.