Ottawa – The Honourable Peter Van Loan, Leader of the Government and Minister for Democratic Reform and the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, today introduced in the House of Commons, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act (visual identification of voters).
"During the recent by-elections in Quebec, the government made it clear that we disagreed with the decision by Elections Canada to allow people to vote while concealing their face. That is why, in the Speech from the Throne, we committed to introducing legislation to confirm the visual identification of voters," said Minister Van Loan. "Today, with the introduction of this Bill, we have fulfilled that commitment."
The Bill requires that voters have to show their face before voting. This will strengthen the voting process by:
- Improving the identification of voters;
- Assisting in ensuring only qualified individuals vote; and
- Allowing someone to be recognized, who is attempting to commit an offence at the polls (e.g. someone trying to vote twice).
Moreover, it will enhance public confidence in the democratic process by establishing a clear rule that will apply to all federal elections and prevent disruptions that could have the potential to undermine the credibility and integrity of the vote.
"While there was no apparent case of fraud in the recent Quebec by-elections, it was widely reported that numerous individuals voted while purposefully concealing their face," said Minister Cannon. "This caused people to question the credibility and integrity of the voting process. In a democratic system, it is crucial that confidence in our democracy be maintained. This Bill will maintain that confidence."
Visual Identification of Voters
The Government has introduced a bill in the House of Commons to amend the Canada Elections Act to confirm the visual identification of voters.
Description of the Bill
- The bill expressly mandates that voters be required to have their faces uncovered when being identified to vote. This would apply to both the registration and voting stages, to both advance and regular polls, to voting in person at the office of the Returning Officer, and during all federal elections and by-elections. Those vouching for voters without identification will also need to show their faces when vouching.
- The bill provides a limited exception for someone seeking to vote whose face is covered for medical reasons (e.g. someone whose face is bandaged after surgery) to ensure the vote continues to be accessible. However, such an elector would need to present more proof of their identity than a single piece of photo identification in order to be entitled to vote (i.e. he or she would need to present two pieces of authorized identification or take an oath and be vouched for by a qualified elector). In addition, he or she would need to take an oath or affirmation attesting to the fact that uncovering his or her face would be harmful to the voter's health.
- To ensure sufficient administrative flexibility, the bill provides technical amendments to ensure that there are sufficient election personnel at the polls to enforce the identification provisions effectively, including, if necessary, to administer the provisions in a manner that is respectful of the religious beliefs of voters.
Benefits of the Bill
An express provision in the law requiring voters to show their faces before voting will strengthen the integrity of the electoral process by, for instance:
- improving the identification of voters, for example, by allowing voters' appearances to be matched to information on their identification or on the list of electors (e.g., their sex or age);
- assisting in ensuring only qualified voters vote (i.e., voters over 18 years of age); or
- allowing someone attempting to commit an offence at the polls to be recognized (e.g., someone trying to vote twice).
- The bill will also restore public confidence in the electoral process by addressing an issue that was met with significant public opposition. This will reduce the potential for disruptions at the polls that could interfere with the flow of the vote or discourage eligible voters from exercising their right to vote.
- Bill C-31 (assented to June 22, 2007) amended the Canada Elections Act to require all voters to prove their identity and residence before voting.
- Prior to the three federal by-elections in Quebec on September 17, 2007, the Chief Electoral Officer advised that he would not require voters to show their faces to prove their identity. Voters would need to show their faces to prove their identity only if they present one piece of photo identification so that their faces could be compared to the photos.
- The federal government strongly disagreed with the interpretation of the Canada Elections Act by the Chief Electoral Officer. The government argued that the intent of the law was clear: voters must demonstrate their identity before voting, and it is not logical that someone could demonstrate their identity while concealing their face.
- The House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs convened a special study of the issue in September 2007 and passed a unanimous motion requesting that the Chief Electoral Officer reverse his decision and use his adaptation power to require voters to show their faces at voting stations across the country. In addition to the testimony from the Chief Electoral Officer, the committee heard from representatives from a variety of organization, all of whom supported a requirement to show one's face before voting. However, the Chief Electoral Officer declined to modify his interpretation - which was fully within his powers to do – instead forcing Parliament to amend the Act if it wished to make it mandatory that voters have their faces uncovered.
- This issue has raised the concern of the public for the integrity of the voting process. For example, during the three federal by-elections in Quebec on September 17, 2007, some voters arrived at the polling stations in masks and other face coverings in protest of the federal Chief Electoral Officer's decision not to require all voters to uncover their faces. Such practices have the potential to significantly disrupt the vote by causing delays, affecting the credibility and dignity of the proceedings or discouraging other voters from exercising their right to vote.