An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (identity of electors)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Michel Guimond  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 23, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to require every elector to identify himself or herself with his or her face uncovered before voting.

The enactment also provides that, if an elector does not possess a piece of identification containing his or her photograph and his or her name and address, the elector may provide two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2007 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I participate today in this debate on Bill C-6, which here and now, in this House, renews the debate on veiled voting.

In these early hours of this debate here in the House of Commons, the whole issue surrounding this bill is a very emotional one. I see that my colleague who spoke this morning and gave a speech filled with emotion is now leaving the House. I can see this is a very emotional issue.

I want to begin by saying that I have a great deal of difficulty, after hearing the first comments by the Liberals, in understanding the Liberal Party's position today in this House. As recently as September 7 of this year, the Liberal Party of Canada was calling for amendments to the act. It called on the Chief Electoral Officer to take action and to reverse the decision he made concerning voting in the byelections that were to take place on September 17 in Quebec. Indeed, it is hard to understand today's statements by the Liberals on this matter, when we heard the leader of the Liberal Party stating the opposite on September 7.

However, the debate here is not new. We must remember that it is part of the debate that has been taking place in Quebec in the context of two recent votes. I think first of the byelection that confirmed the election of Pauline Marois. As it happens, while the issue of veiled women voting was not at the heart of the campaign it certainly was raised during that byelection.

We must also recall that this debate was also raised during the September 17 byelections in Quebec. As a matter of fact, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada announced that women wearing veils could vote in the next federal election and in the Quebec byelections on September 17 without being required to uncover their faces. The following day, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party—I emphasize that—and the Bloc Québécois intervened, calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to reverse that decision. Later, naturally after some pussyfooting and hesitation, the leader of the NDP thought better of it and also demanded that the Chief Electoral Officer's opinion be reviewed.

The result is that we are now considering Bill C-6 which seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act to require male and female voters to have uncovered faces when voting or registering to vote.

Of course, the bill before us today includes some exceptions, one of which involves allowing voters to keep their faces covered for health reasons, but only on the condition, of course, that two pieces of identification be presented.

Furthermore, under Bill C-6, certain exceptions would determine under what circumstances—and these are the cases for which the law provides flexibility—a voter must uncover his or her face.

I would remind the House that this kind of debate has already been raised this year, when we amended the Canada Elections Act in order to be able to confirm the identity of voters. As I recall, we thought that the problems raised in the context of the two byelections—especially the one on September 17—had been resolved by that amendment. However, Bill C-31, which we examined clause-by-clause in February 2007, made it mandatory for voters to produce photo identification in order to vote.

Thus, it seemed sufficiently clear that voters were obliged to prove their identity. Fundamentally, that is the spirit of this bill. It is not a racial question, as some members have said here today. Rather, it is a question of verifying the identity of voters. At the time, we thought that amending the Canada Elections Act through Bill C-31 was enough to clarify the situation regarding voter identification.

I would remind the House, however, that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada refused to use his special authority to require all voters to uncover their faces in order to vote. The Bloc Québécois would like to see that legislation amended as quickly as possible. This is why my hon. colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord introduced Bill C-465, to amend the Canada Elections Act: in order to ensure that voters vote with their faces uncovered.

I would remind the House that this accommodation, which would allow certain voters to keep their face covered while voting, is not the sort of reasonable accommodation called for by the Muslim community.

I remember that, during an interview on Radio-Canada on September 10, 2007, Ms. Asmaa Ibnouzahir said that Muslim women had decided themselves to take the initiative and unveil their faces because they thought it was a normal thing to do so as a security matter, just as they do at the customs or the passport office. The Muslim community itself, therefore, as represented by Présence musulmane Montréal—an organization that is quite representative of the community—said that these women had been voting for years and had never asked for special treatment, although they knew they had the right to do so.

There is no demand or request for this kind of accommodation, which would mean that women would not need to uncover their face. That is why we need to act as quickly as possible. Is Bill C-6 perfect? No, it is not, but it has the advantage of dealing with the situation in principle, in view of the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer refuses to use his powers under the Elections Act.

What are the imperfections in Bill C-6? We think that it does not abide by the principle of equality between men and women. Under the first five clauses in Bill C-6, deputy returning officers and poll clerks can delegate their powers to another person. Under this provision, a male deputy returning officer could therefore accommodate a female elector by designating a woman before whom the elector could uncover her face to confirm her identity. This is totally unacceptable.

It is as if citizens of Arab or Muslim origin came into my riding office but refused to be served by my assistant because she is a woman. I would tell these people that my assistant is perfectly competent and is there to serve the citizens. There is no possible doubt in this case that the equality of men and women is a basic right. I fail to see why this principle of the basic equality of men and women cannot be upheld in the bill.

I will finish by saying this is clearly an emotional debate. It is a debate that we need, though, because of our responsibility for democracy. We need to find the right balance in our ability to accommodate people. It is important to be able to identify people when they exercise their voting rights. Of course there can be some exceptions for medical reasons, but in general, we should ensure that when a citizen comes to a polling station, he or she must address the deputy returning officers or poll clerks who are there, regardless of whether they are men or women, and identify himself or herself, in accordance with the legislation that we are trying to amend today.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

November 14th, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak about this bill, especially since I am going to change the presentation I had drafted in my head and answer a question my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier asked the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

The suggestion made by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier to refer the bill to committee before second reading is excellent. In light of what has been said, I can say that that could improve this bill. As I said earlier to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, this bill, like any bill, can be improved. I also want to tell my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier that the relevant committee—because both members referred to the relevant committee—is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am vice-chair.

That said, I would like to repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support the bill in principle, but that some parts will have to be changed. It is interesting to note that the bill provides for some exceptions. The issue had come up before, and this is an interesting point: the bill will allow people to keep their faces covered for medical reasons. These people could exercise their right to vote.

When I was a teenager, one of my friends had an operation. Beauty is important at that age. In fact, it is chief among our concerns. My friend had plastic surgery to pin back his ears, and his head was literally swathed in bandages. You could see only a few centimetres of skin on either side of his eyes. This would be ample reason for allowing this person to vote on presenting a medical certificate, of course. It goes without saying. However, we need to ask ourselves how often this situation arises in a general election or byelection.

In addition, Bill C-6 adds clauses that allow returning officers to appoint additional people at the polls and to delegate some of the responsibilities at the polls. In this way, the members of the election staff would have some flexibility to determine the circumstances under which a person would have to show his or her face. For example, a Muslim woman who so requested could uncover her face only in front of another woman.

We do not want to announce any amendments because we want to hear from the various stakeholders first. We will recall the controversy in late summer last year surrounding the decision by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to allow the possibility for veiled electors to vote. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs heard testimony from Muslim women's groups from Quebec, such as Présence musulmane Montréal, but mostly from Ontario. Five or six of these groups were represented at the roundtable with us, at the committee. These women told us that they never asked to vote with their faces veiled. That is something they never requested. Like other women in Canada, these Muslim women are seeking gender equality, and rightly so.

The government bill, however, seeks to leave a degree of power or flexibility with the Chief Electoral Officer. Mr. Mayrand had such flexibility, and we have seen what he did with it. We do not want to leave such flexibility with him. The Bloc Québécois wants clear legislation requiring everyone to remove their veil upon arriving at the polling station. Now, he is given the power to make accommodations.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has answered my question. I could have put the following question to him. How will this work in a polling division with three stations where the entire electoral staff is male?

How is this going to work? Will we stop the process if a woman shows up at the polling station and wants to vote—which is her legitimate right—but is veiled?

We have to find a way for her to unveil her face. We left that responsibility to the Chief Electoral Officer. How is it going to work? Will this be done in a polling booth, or in another location?

Let us take the example that I gave regarding polling divisions with two or three polling stations, as we find in rural communities. There may not be many in downtown Toronto, but in rural areas, in small communities of 230 people, such as Baie-Sainte-Catherine, in my riding, at the mouth of the Saguenay River, there are not going to be four polling divisions. If in this polling division that has only one polling station there are only men on duty, will we stop the voting process and swear in a special female returning officer? This is not feasible.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will hear witnesses who will reiterate the fact that Muslim women never requested that. I remind the House that Muslims account for 92% or 93% of the population in Morocco. This means there is a high probability that some women are veiled. It may not be all women, but again it is estimated that Muslims account for 92% or 93% of Morocco's population. These groups of Muslim women told us that this was never a problem.

In Morocco, when an election is held, there are two ballots. If my memory serves me right, elections were held on August 25 and on September 6. Elections were held at the end of August and in September, and there were no problems. Women uncovered their faces to vote.

By giving back this flexibility to the Chief Electoral Officer, the bill puts us back in almost the same dilemma. In any case, Mr. Mayrand will have the opportunity to come and tell us about it.

Again, the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle, because we feel that all voters, whether men or women, must be equal before the law.

In 2007, the House of Commons amended the Elections Act to enhance the requirements for proving the identity of voters. I do not intend to go over this at length, but there was indeed room for improvement. Before, two or three weeks in advance of voting day, the Chief Electoral Officer would send out a small card indicating the polling station and the polling division. This was sent out to every home.

As candidates in an election, there is a good chance we will see the electors at their home because we go door to door. I once went door to door in buildings with 64 dwellings. At the entrance, we could see the mail room with various store fliers and piles of elector cards. We saw 30 or 40 cards scattered on the floor among the flyers. A dishonest person could have gathered those cards and handed them out. They could have been used as identification.

I want to acknowledge the good work all parliamentarians have done to correct this situation. We have improved the identification process. I was a member of the committee at the time. If my memory serves me correctly, on February 23, 2007, we examined the issue of elector identification. I must admit that at the time, we did not discuss the issue of uncovering one's face to vote.

I also admit that the situation arose in Quebec during the March 26, 2007, general election. In fact, the chief electoral officer of Quebec, Marcel Blanchet, used his authority to rule that everyone presenting themselves at a polling station must vote with their faces uncovered. Period. The chief electoral officer, Mr. Blanchet, reiterated this fact during the byelections held in the Quebec riding of Charlevoix, in my riding, where the leader of the Parti Québécois, Ms. Marois, was elected. In addition, we learned last week that the National Assembly tabled a bill that will be studied by a parliamentary committee.

The Bloc Québécois, as well as the other political parties, and in particular, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and some members, pointed out in their interventions that the principle of the bill was consensual. Yes, that is correct. However, that does not mean that if we are in favour of the principle of the bill that we are in favour of all the provisions contained therein. That does not mean that all the provisions of the bill are not good.

I mentioned the example of someone who could vote with their face covered for medical reasons. However, some aspects of the bill are problematic.

In anticipation of the three byelections held last September 17 in Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, could have used his discretionary power and ruled that everyone had to vote with their face uncovered. The elections act gives him this authority. Contrary to what he told us in committee—and I challenged him on this—he seemed to say that it was too complex and too broad an issue to use his discretionary power.

I reminded him that, in the January 2006 election, the Chief Electoral Officer had used his discretionary authority on more than 33 occasions. He used it to amend the law to facilitate the voting. Therefore, Mr. Mayrand could have done it. However, he decided not to and at that point, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I announced that we would introduce a bill when Parliament resumed.

I do not want to get into a discussion of the type “my dad is stronger than yours” or “whose idea was it?” However, one thing is certain—before the introduction of Bill C-6, which we are discussing, after Parliament resumed, the Bloc Québécois had kept its promise. I proudly introduced, on behalf of my party, Bill C-465, to clarify the situation.

I agree that my bill left out the medical issue, but like all bills, it could have been improved. That being said, the bill introduced by the Bloc was clear: all individuals must show their faces to vote.

On behalf of my party, I even requested unanimous consent for this bill to be passed at all stages and referred to the Senate. The reality of a minority government is that an election can happen at the drop of a hat. This situation must be clarified, especially considering that Mr. Mayrand has refused to use the discretionary power available to him by law. Let us hope that there will not be an election next week, because we will find ourselves in exactly the same situation.

Unfortunately, for partisan reasons, the Conservative government refused to speed things up for the bill. The Conservatives introduced their own bill. As I said, I do not want to talk about whose idea it was in the first place. That is not the issue, but the truth is that before this bill was introduced, the government could have fast-tracked the Bloc Québécois' bill. However, the government chose to exhibit partisanship and pettiness by rejecting the Bloc's bill.

As I said, this bill would open the door to a breach of gender equality. The first five clauses of the bill were included to enable returning officers and poll clerks to delegate their authority to another individual. That means that there would be another person authorized to perform the duties normally required of returning officers and poll clerks as custodians of the ballot box and designated officials responsible for verifying the identity of voters.

Even the Secretary of State responsible for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity confirmed that these measures were included to accommodate certain cultural groups. On October 30, 2007, Le Devoir published an article in which the secretary of state said, “I think that the bill is well written... It strikes a balance between Parliament's desire to verify the identity of individuals and the need to remain flexible to accommodate cultural needs.”

That is not what Muslims, particularly Muslim women, are asking for. They want to be treated equally. They do not want to be treated differently from other voters. That is what the government is failing to understand.

When he was invited to explain the provisions of the bill, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities told us that he wanted to leave some things to the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer. We are right back to square one, the original reason this bill is before us. The Chief Electoral Officer is misusing his discretion, and refuses to take responsibility and issue an order.

The Bloc Québécois said that with the agreement of all the parties, we would propose a clear bill. However, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities wants to allow more room for discretion. So the government is sending the problem back to the Chief Electoral Officer.

I would like to remind the House that in a La Presse article, dated October 30, 2007, the Chief Electoral Officer said that he did not intend to take sides in societal debates. What does it mean to take sides in societal debates?

In conclusion, I would like to say that this is completely unacceptable. All civil servants working in elections, whether they are deputy returning officers or poll clerks, deserve the same respect, regardless of their sex. Election workers, whether they are male or female, must be able to carry out the same tasks without being discriminated against based on their sex.

To get around the requirement I mentioned earlier, at a polling station where there are only men, the Chief Electoral Officer could require that there be one woman at each table in each polling division, to allow female voters to uncover their face only in front of a woman. This would encourage discrimination, setting us back years, and it is not our intention to encourage such behaviour.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 25th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to present a motion. This one seeks the unanimous consent of the four parties in this House on the issue of electors identifying themselves with their face uncovered for voting.

I seek unanimous consent of the House for the following motion: “That notwithstanding any Standing Order or the usual practices of the House, Bill C-465, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (identity of electors), be deemed read a second time and referred to committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.”

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

October 23rd, 2007 / 10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-465, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (identity of electors).

Mr. Speaker, we all remember the controversy caused by the Chief Electoral Officer's decision to allow voters to vote while wearing a veil. On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I promised to introduce a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act.

This bill will require all voters to establish their identity, with their faces visible, before they can vote. The bill also provides that when a voter does not have photo identification with their name and address, the voter can provide two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer.

As we have mentioned, this situation is absurd and must be corrected through legislation. This is why we are introducing the bill.

In any case, I believe this bill will easily receive unanimous consent. I would remind the House that every party has indicated its support for this approach. Furthermore, the government announced this very intent in the Speech from the Throne.

(Motion deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)