Frank v Canada: Contrasting the Section 1 Analyses

By: Sahil Kesar and Jasmit De Saffel

On January 11, 2019 the Supreme Court issued its decision on the constitutional challenge to provisions of the Canada Elections Act detailing residence requirements for voting in federal elections. The provisions in question denied the right to vote in federal elections to Canadian citizens residing abroad for five consecutive years or more.  The Court sided with the expats and held that the impugned provisions infringe section 3 of the Charter and were not saved under section 1.  Frank v Canada was substantively significant for deepening the constitutional protection of section 3 voting rights for Canadians. The decision was also procedurally note-worthy, particularly in the strongly contrasting section 1 analyses of the majority and dissent decisions.

While both the majority and dissent found a pressing and substantial purpose to the non-resident limitation, they both determined it to be different from each other. Writing for the majority, Wagner CJ found that the purpose of the legislation is to maintain the fairness of the electoral system to resident Canadians. Brown J and Cote J’s dissent found the purpose to be to privilege a relationship of some currency between electors and their communities.

The majority did not come to a conclusion on rational connection but they did reject the Attorney General’s arguments, suggesting that it is likely they did not find a rational connection. The dissent found a rational connection between the 5-year period and the objective of preserving currency between electors and their communities. They found that the majority’s reasoning in dismissing the rational connection, taken to its conclusion, creates inconsistencies in their argument.

The majority determined the appeal on minimal impairment. They held that the 5-year period has no basis and is over-inclusive as it applies even to those to whom it is not intended to apply. The dissent stated that, based on the options available to Parliament, the 5-year period was the least impairing option, especially considering the non-resident cut-offs for other similar democracies and that citizens can vote again once they re-establish residency.

Finally, on proportionality, the majority did not think the salutary effects outweigh the deleterious effects. They asserted that the impugned provisions disenfranchise over one-million non-resident Canadians who have been abroad for 5 years or more and that it is unclear how this advances fairness in the electoral system. It severely limits the ability of non-resident citizens to vote especially considering the laws that might be enacted could affect their citizenship. The dissent took the view that the salutary effects outweigh the deleterious effects mentioned by the majority. Addressing the concerns of reciprocity between exercising the right to vote and bearing the burden of Canadian laws and protecting the integrity of the electoral system outweigh any concerns with the legislation. They also found that the majority overlooks the importance of residence and effective representation in weighing the effects.

The dissent’s deferential section 1 analysis did not decide this case but should be noted for giving the government more leeway in justifying infringements on voting rights. Considering Rowe J’s openness to a limit based on residency in his concurring judgement, one wonders if there is potential for the dissent’s less stringent section 1 analysis to decide future cases about positive rights guaranteed in the Charter?

Sahil Kesar is the current Asper Centre half-time clinic student and a 3L JD candidate at UTLaw.

Jasmit de Saffel is this year’s Asper Centre’s work-study student and a 1L JD candidate at UTLaw.

 

Supreme Court Moves Voting Rights into Globalization Era in Frank Decision

by Jasmit de Saffel

In its first decision of the year, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with Canadian ex-pats in a case about their voting rights. Chief Justice Wagner held that “citizenship, not residence, defines our political community and underpins the right to vote” (para 35).

Frank v Canada had been initiated by two Canadians living in the United States after they were denied the right to vote in the 2011 federal election. Dr. Gill Frank and Mr. Jamie Duong live in the United States for work and educational purposes but maintain close ties to Canada. The impugned provisions of the Canada Elections Act held that citizens who had resided outside of Canada for more than five consecutive years were not able to vote in federal elections until they resumed residence in Canada. This provision was recently repealed by the government, and the Supreme Court decision has made the residence limitation on voting rights unconstitutional.

The application judge sided with the applicants in 2014, finding that the residence requirement infringes section 3 of the Charter and was not saved under section 1. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General of Canada conceded that the provision breached section 3 but argued that it was a justified infringement for the sake of the Canadian “social contract.” The appeal was allowed.

In his reasons Wagner CJ, writing for a 5-2 majority, emphasized that any intrusions on the core democratic right to vote must be reviewed on the basis of a stringent justification standard (para 25). He found that residence is not mentioned in the section 3 guarantee or established as essential to the right to vote in the jurisprudence. “The Charter tethers voting rights to citizenship, and citizenship alone” (para 29).

Under the section 1 analysis, Wagner CJ dismissed the Attorney General’s social contract argument as a vague and ill-suited objective to withstand the rigours of a section 1 justification. He quotes the Asper Centre’s factum in laying out the argument’s analytical failings, holding that using the social contract as an objective collapses any distinction between legislative means and ends (para 53).

The real downfall of the government’s case was at the minimal impairment stage. The Court held that the limit was over-inclusive and that no correlation had been shown between time lived abroad and subjective commitment to Canada. The Court held that we live in a globalized society and that the ability of citizens living abroad to remain connected to Canada is “unprecedented.” Non-residents, like the applicants, are able to maintain deep “political, familial, financial or cultural” roots in Canada (para 69). The limit was held to undermine, rather than promote, the underlying objective of electoral fairness in Canada. The Court found that our democracy is “manifestly strengthened” by the demonstration of civic commitment of Canadian citizens abroad voting via special ballot (para 75). Denying non-residing citizens the right to vote was understood as coming at the expense of their dignity and self-worth.

In a concurring judgement, Rowe J held that the residency requirement is not trivial and is firmly rooted in Canada’s representative democracy model (para 90). While finding that the limit on section 3 was not justified in this case, Rowe J held that the possibility of voting limits based on residence should not be entirely ruled out.

In their dissent, Cote and Brown JJ held that the decision is regressive and undoes a long-standing Westminster tradition of privileging local connections in electing local representatives.

Jasmit de Saffel  is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the current Asper Centre work-study student

Asper Centre was granted leave to intervene in the SCC case on voting rights for long-term expats

The case, Gillian Frank, et al. v Attorney General of Canada concerns two applicants who are Canadian citizens residing in the United States for employment reasons, who intend to return to Canada if circumstances permit. Both applicants were refused voting ballots for the 2011 Canadian General Election since they had been resident outside Canada for five years or more. The applicants sought a declaration that certain provisions of the Canada Elections Act violated their Charter-protected right to vote. A judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice declared the impugned provisions of the Act unconstitutional by reason of violating the applicants’ right to vote under s. 3 of the Charter, and the violation was not justifiable under s. 1.

A majority of the Court of Appeal allowed the Attorney General’s appeal, finding that the denial of the vote to non-resident citizens who have been outside Canada for five years or more is saved by s. 1. The limitation is rationally connected to the government’s pressing and substantial objective of preserving Canada’s “social contract” (whereby resident citizens submit to the laws passed by elected representatives because they had a voice in making such laws); it minimally impairs the voting rights of non-resident citizens by ensuring they may still vote if they resume residence in Canada; and the limitation’s deleterious effects do not outweigh the law’s benefits. In dissent, Laskin J.A. would have dismissed the appeal, finding that the “social contract” was not an appropriate nor a pressing and substantial legislative objective, and should not have been considered by the court. Justice Laskin also found that the denial of the right to vote was not rationally connected to the stated objective and did not minimally impair the rights of non-resident citizens, and that its harmful effects outweighed the stated benefits of the limitation.

The Asper Centre will intervene in March of 2018.