By: Sebastian Rosemont on
Pierre Poilievre, Conservative candidate for Carleton, in an interview on July 17, 2015
By default of being born in Canada or immigrating, and accessing a range of basic services, it is true that we’ve all very likely been issued ID at some point, but it’s simplistic to assume everyone still has ID. And in the context of voting, Poilievre’s statement is misleading. In order to vote, people need to prove both who they are and where they live.FactsCan Score: Misleading
There are new voter identification rules at the ballot box on Monday, the first federal voting day to test the Fair Elections Act.
The controversial new law hung in the balance over the summer as lobby groups the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students sought an injunction to block a provision in the law that removed voter information cards (VICs) as an acceptable voting document. An Ontario Superior Court judge denied the request. Justice David Stinson ruled that despite a risk to the right to vote, a full hearing would be required to grant the injunction – one that wouldn’t happen before the October election.
On the day of the ruling, Pierre Poilievre, minister for democratic reform and the sponsor of the Fair Elections Act, praised the decision to CTV. Poilievre said, “everybody has some sort of ID to show who they are. And it’s reasonable to expect they do so when they cast their ballot.”
Does every Canadian have the ID needed to vote? First, let’s look at what the law requires.
Documents required to vote
Under the Fair Elections Act, the voter information cards (VICs) issued by Elections Canada are no longer accepted. Canadians are required to verify their address, either through approved forms of ID or through an oath.
There are three ways to vote: One is with one piece of government-issued ID with name, photo and current address, like a driver’s license, or a provincial or territorial ID card. Second is with a combination of documents like a student card and a phone bill, with at least one showing a current address. Third, voters can present two pieces of ID verifying their name, and swear an oath about their address. For this option, someone in the same polling division with proof of identity and address must attest to the oath. (See a full list of ID options at Elections Canada).
Although Poilievre’s statement is about personal identity, and not address, Canadians need to prove both in order to vote.
Impossible to be invisible?
Like Poilievre, some argue that everyone has identity documents by default of living and accessing services in Canada.
Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business who has testified before the House of Commons and Senate committees on the Fair Elections Act, said, “it is impossible to be invisible in Canada.”
In an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, Lee said that based on his own research, “it is legally and factually impossible today to be digitally invisible with no identity of any kind recorded in any government database anywhere in Canada.”
According to Lee, every Canadian gets a health insurance card to access hospitals and clinics. Title deeds to property and tenancy agreements are required by law to include a name and address. Every university student is issued a school ID card. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada also issues IDs necessary for receiving certain benefits. Identification is required to apply for Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. At the very least, every Canadian has been issued a birth certificate and all naturalized citizens have received documentation affirming citizenship. This means that at some point, all Canadians had a document showing who they are.
But just because it’s very likely that all Canadians once had ID, doesn’t mean they still do, especially now that new address requirements are in effect.
In the decision against an injunction, Justice Stinson expressed concern that some people might be unable to vote under the new law. He wrote, “based on the evidence to date, there is a risk that some individuals who would otherwise rely on the Voter Information Card to enable them to vote will be unable to do so … which would result in irreparable harm due to their inability to exercise their right to vote in that fashion.”
That argument is echoed by a number of experts.
Jon Pammett, a political science professor at Carleton University, said there are certain groups who are less likely to have the necessary paperwork at their fingertips, especially evidence of address. “A substantial number would would either not have, or not readily have, such identification,” he said.
Yasmin Dawood, an associate professor of law and political science at the University of Toronto, listed the people at risk of not having proof of address: “The groups that are particularly vulnerable are seniors living in long term care facilities, students in residence, homeless individuals, and members of the First Nations (and voters who have recently moved).”
Patti Lenard, a public policy professor at the University of Ottawa, said that even a driver’s license might not be as up to date as a VIC. As for vouching, while it is still allowed, “its use is constrained.” Because of the new constraints, Lenard argued, “the more one is already a marginalized member of Canadian society, the less likely it is that one can meet the ID requirements imposed by the [Fair Elections Act].”
In his ruling, Stinson also listed groups that could be disenfranchised, based on evidence presented in his courtroom: Students, the homeless, the elderly, and those who move during the election period.
Poilievre may be right that all Canadians had identity at some point, but the statement is misleading. For one, it can’t be assumed that everyone still holds long-ago issued documents. And when it comes to voting, simply showing who you are is not enough. Canadians must also show where they currently live, which adds a second challenge for some.
It’s misleading, in the context of voting requirements, to claim that “everybody has some sort of ID to show who they are.”