House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was voters.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member was factually incorrect when he said that the chief electoral officer called for this. He did not call for this at all. The only party that is calling for this is that member's party, the government, which is insisting this has to be.

I am saying that a series of issues need to be addressed so why only focus on one issue? The government is focusing on one issue because of the fact it wants to create a wedge issue in this country. It wants to create an issue of intolerance and fear, which is why I am offended by the legislation.

If the legislation were comprehensive and if it dealt with several other issues facing our country, I would be fine with it, but it does not. The government is focusing--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Brampton West.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, contrary to what I normally like to do in this House, I really do not want to be confrontational. However, I would like to explain to the House my concerns about this legislation.

The hon. parliamentary secretary said that it will not hurt anyone. She may be right but I am concerned that we are on a slippery slope here. We do one little thing, which the member says is not targeting, but I believe it is targeting. Catholics and Hindus do not wear burkas.

I am not sure the legislation intentionally targets anyone. However, since 9/11, the Muslim community has been extremely patient. They have been targeted at borders and targeted by police.

Fourteen members of a food security company, which was doing testing for the government, needed RCMP clearance. They were all immigrants. It took about four months longer to process the security clearance for the only Muslim in the group, Dr. Eshaq Shishani. To me the reason was fairly obvious. It was because he was a Muslim. He was stopped by the police one night. They opened the trunk of his car and found some documents on food radiation. Food radiation is a scientific process being done in the lab. Since the documents concerned radiation, the police officers handcuffed Dr. Shishani, strip-searched him and threw him in jail. He was allowed to wander home the next day with no apology being given. Can anyone tell me that is not targeting?

I am just concerned that we continue to go on thoughtlessly without really considering how these people are feeling.

We have heard so much debate on burkas. Other women have said that Muslim women should not wear burkas because it is the subjugation women. I thought being an independent woman was about having a choice, a choice to be a cookie baker, a choice to be a member of Parliament or a choice to wear a burka without condemnation and criticism. It is not a matter of saying who is right and who is wrong. We do too much of that.

Religious school funding was an issue during the last provincial election campaign. Who was targeted in Ontario? Who did the newspapers show as wanting this religious school funding? It was the Muslim schools. It was non-white schools. It was the Sikhs. News reports would do a little clip on religious rights or on Jewish schools but the target was fear and it was using the Muslim community and its schools as a weapon.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

And the Liberals used it against John Tory in the provincial campaign.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

The news did that.

I know that oftentimes we do things because we think we are going to curry favour with ethnic groups. I do not believe that Christmas trees should be taken down at Christmastime. When I send a Christmas card, it should say Merry Christmas. As a matter of fact, a Muslim imam once said to me that I was the only politician who sends him a Christmas card that says Merry Christmas. I asked him if he was offended by that and he said no. He said that if people cannot respect their own religion and customs, how could he expect them to respect his. I have learned much from the Muslim community.

We have now learned that “jihad” is a dirty word. It is a word that means terror, death and vengeance. However, it is not. Jihad is a holy war within oneself and yet we continue to misuse this word, which is a very precious word to Muslims, and we use it in such a negative way.

I know the Muslims have been targeted. I do not really see what the big deal is about four women in Quebec wearing burkas. If I can go in and not have proof that I am a Canadian citizen and I can take an oath, why can they not take an oath to say who they are?

I may be wrong but, and this is from my heart and soul, I believe this. I have watched many of these people stand with dignity while they were being put down and I am afraid this is just another example of that.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I actually believe the member does feel that this is a targeted measure. However, as a whole, she and her party are going places that are really unnecessary. This is really about the integrity of democracy. If people are allowed to vote with covered faces, then how do we ensure the integrity of the identifying of voters. This is only about identifying voters.

Those are really good stories about going through airports and being targeted but that is another issue in another debate. This is just about fixing a little glitch in the Elections Act. It has nothing to do with targeting voters or whatever. If we were going there, then we would have a lot of bigger issues. It certainly has nothing to do with that and I am sorry that is what it is being made into.

I cannot imagine people listening to this today and even listening about the religious schools funding and the way the media, as she says, handled it. That issue is with the media and I would quickly take her debate out there and talk to the media. It has done a disservice.

I think she has good intent and really believes what she said but she needs to look at the big picture. This is about voting from coast to coast across Canada. It is about showing identification. We need to fix it. The chief electoral office must have had a reason for asking that it be fixed. It cannot just be put on hold. We need to do it now before it becomes an issue, before voters decide to show up in any sort of disguise at the voters' booths. Those things are not easy to deal with on election night, as I tried to express. What we are trying to do is avoid all these problems.

We just went through an election in Saskatchewan, so we know what it can be like. My daughter had to find two pieces of ID when she was a university student. She had to find a place to vote. It was not easy. She needed the ID.

I think what we are trying to do is prevent a lot of problems on election night and we do not want to make it into a cultural issue or a targeted group issue.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did say that the religious school funding was a media report. I had no intention of debating that in the House.

I sincerely do not believe that anyone believes they are targeting another group. However, when we talk about the integrity of voter identity, are we going to stop proxy voting? We all know that proxy voting does not have a great deal of voter identity involved with it. Are we going to stop mail-in votes?

This applies to so few people. With the problems we have on voting day with the lists with duplicate names at same addresses, this presents more of a likelihood of fraud, and fraud in large numbers, than something like a burka or having a bandaged face.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Portage—Lisgar
Manitoba

Conservative

Brian Pallister Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am a little concerned with the member's comments in the sense that in linking legitimate concerns about preserving the integrity of a voting system for the country with the allegation of targeting, which essentially was the focus of the member's rant today, I am afraid the member is doing a disservice to other members of the House, as well as to those who expressed legitimate concerns about the issue of burkas in voting booths, including her own leader who expressed support for the concept of addressing this issue to the Canadian people.

I would like the member to assure this House that she is not attempting to impugn the intentions of her own leader today in her remarks.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

November 15th, 2007 / 11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was a really silly question.

I do not think that I have accused anyone in this House of deliberately targeting anyone else. I made that very clear from the outset of my speech. I have not singled out any Conservative member. I have not singled out any Bloc member. I have not singled out any member. I am simply expressing the way I feel. I am not even saying I am right and others are wrong, which is highly unusual in this House.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning, I have felt a light breeze of hysteria blowing on this side of the House. Accordingly, I have decided that I should speak on this bill.

As politicians who have to face the electorate, we always state that the right to vote is not only a right, but should also be an obligation. So it works both ways. From that statement it follows that we must be able to establish the identity of the people who come to vote and to express their democratic choice.

I have heard many comments. They all came back to the fact that one could—at least, that is how it appeared to me—attack some segment of the population. In other words, the comments were discriminatory in some respect, which should not be the case. To exercise the right to vote, one must at least be capable of satisfactorily proving one's identity.

It would, perhaps, be interesting to look at the chronology of the events concerning voting with the face covered. We have gone through a similar situation in Quebec. Let us start at the beginning.

On March 22, 2007 the chief electoral officer of Quebec confirmed that women wearing veils could vote in the provincial election on March 26, even if they refused to uncover their face. Radio program hosts launched a campaign to persuade voters to go and vote with their face covered as a protest against the decision of the chief electoral officer.

On March 23, confronted with a public outcry and the possibility of seeing the election turn into a masked ball, the chief electoral officer of Quebec changed the electoral act: all voters would have to have their face uncovered.

On June 19, the members of the House of Commons adopted Bill C-31 to amend the Canada Elections Act. The bill provides for a photo identification procedure.

On September 6, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada announced that women wearing veils could vote in the next federal election and in the September 17 byelections in Quebec without being required to uncover their face.

On September 7, the Liberal party, the Conservative party and the Bloc Québécois called on the Chief Electoral Officer to reverse his decision. The Muslim community of Montreal also expressed its disagreement with the new policy. The following day, of course, the New Democratic party reconsidered and demanded that the position of the Chief Electoral Officer be reviewed.

On September 10, at a news conference, Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, stated that he had no intention of using his exceptional power to reverse the situation before the September 17 byelections. On that date, at least four women voted in the byelection in Outremont wearing a burka, to show their disagreement with the Chief Electoral Officer. One man, in a wheelchair, voted wearing a balaclava.

On October 17, in his Speech from the Throne, the Conservative government gave notice of its intention to introduce a bill prohibiting electors from voting with their face covered. On October 23, as we had already announced, the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to prohibit people from voting with their face veiled. On October 26, the Conservative government came up with a bill to prohibit anyone from voting in an election with his or her face covered.

Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill in principle. However, we feel that there are certain provisions which, while not absurd, will have to be reviewed and probably amended. We are finding that the bill introduced by the government does not fully reflect the principle that all are equal before the law.

Indeed, the bill opens the door to violations of the principle of equality between men and women. The first five clauses of Bill C-6 were included to allow deputy returning officers and poll clerks to delegate their powers to another individual. This means that a male deputy returning officer could accommodate a female voter by designating a woman in front of whom she could uncover her face to confirm her identity.

The Bloc Québécois feels that this is unacceptable. We will, of course, support the bill at second reading, but we will demand that the first five clauses be repealed.

The bill also includes some exceptions. For example, a person who must keep his or her face covered for medical reasons could still vote by providing two authorized pieces of identification and by taking an oath. Bill C-6 also adds new provisions to the act that allow returning officers to appoint additional persons in polling stations, and to also delegate some of their responsibilities.

As I mentioned earlier, I heard some very strange comments, primarily from Liberal members, who said that this is a witch hunt, that we do not have the right to prohibit people from voting with their face covered, and that we were directly targeting a community. In fact, our position is based on the very principle of democracy, on the right to vote, and on the need to make it practically impossible to use someone else's identity.

Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for any voter to show up with their face veiled or otherwise covered, preventing their identification. Now, in a specific context where there is much discussion everywhere about reasonable accommodations, a common knee jerk reaction in some people is to often use certain pretexts to find fault with those who wear a veil or cover their faces otherwise. In Roberval, a veiled woman showed up and voted. We are not necessarily talking about a burka here.

This goes to show how the door can be opened for individuals who are probably looking to make a mockery of the whole situation and to demonstrate that it is possible to vote without proper identification.

I was quite surprised by the Liberals' reaction, especially given what the leader of the Liberal Party had said. The Canadian Press quoted him on September 9 as saying, “We disagree with Elections Canada decision and we ask them to revisit their decision. At the end of the day, you must be able to identify yourself when you vote”.

It was the Liberal leader who said that. Later, he stated that, on the one hand, he disagreed with Elections Canada's decision not to reconsider the issue of uncovered faces but that, on the other hand, he might be able to live with the provisions of the existing legislation. This means that, at one time, all political leaders in this House were singing the same tune, saying that identification was necessary to vote.

Several principles guide the Bloc Québécois' position on this issue. As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois supports the bill. All voters should be equal before the law. I also indicated that, in 2007, the lawmaker amended the Elections Act to tighten the requirements with respect to voter identification. Among other things, Bill C-31, which was passed by the House of Commons in February 2007, no longer allowed people to vouch for more than one elector and required photo ID to be able to vote.

The Bloc Québécois and the other political parties believed that the Elections Act was clear enough and that by requiring voters to prove their identity, it was implicitly requiring them to uncover their faces.

However, because the Chief Electoral Officer refused to use his exceptional power to require that all voters uncover their faces, the Bloc Québécois believes that the act needs to be amended as soon as possible, as we are doing. That is why we introduced our own bill.

We must not forget that groups representing Muslim women assert that they have never asked to be accommodated in this regard. In an interview with Radio-Canada, Asmaa Ibnouzahir of Présence musulmane Montréal said:

These women have been voting for years, and they have never asked for special treatment, even though they know they could. They themselves took the initiative to show their faces, just as they do at customs or the passport office, because they believed it made sense for security reasons. So for them, it is perfectly natural to uncover their faces.

I believe that this quote is enough to put an end to the debate about the requirement to uncover one's face when voting. I therefore ask the Liberal Party to reconsider its position and face facts: in the interests of democracy, people must vote with their faces uncovered.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for those words. He has brought the debate to where it should be, which is to talk about the integrity of the voting process.

I am as confused as he is about the official opposition. I am wondering if those in Quebec understand it a little more because they can see how easily it can get out of hand. He gave some examples of why. He understands that perhaps if this kind of thing is allowed, it sometimes causes more problems with racial remarks or remarks against groups that really do not deserve it.

I was pleased that the member called upon the Liberals to rethink this so that we could get this legislation through quickly and then solve the real problem on the next issue, which was a clear oversight and has to be resolved.

Could the member tell us why he thinks the party next to him is so against this when in fact it is the proper and right thing to do?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Conservative member for her question.

In asking that question, she is opening a door, because it takes me back several elections. Although no one has ever really wanted to admit it, it was a time when people had become experts at identity theft in an attempt to win additional votes.

When people can vote with their faces covered and their identity cannot be proven, obviously all sorts of things can happen. In a democracy, these sorts of things must be avoided as much as possible. Every effort must be made to prevent people who do not qualify to vote from voting. These people might have been able to cover their faces in order to vote for someone else.

This is the principle that is driving me. At no time have I thought of religious considerations. I am thinking only of democratic considerations. Voters must uncover their faces, and election officials must be able to correctly identify voters, who are not only exercising their right to vote, but also doing their duty as responsible individuals and, in so doing, are participating appropriately in the political process, with their faces uncovered.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?