Initially published as a column on AM News.
A couple of weeks ago Canadians living abroad woke up to sobering news: those who have lived abroad for more than five years do not have the right to vote in Canada anymore. The reason, according to the Ontario Court of Appeal, is that their vote would harm Canada’s democracy.
I can almost hear some people ask ‘Canada’s what?’ because, frankly, democracy has been on trial lately. If living abroad for various reasons makes one unfitting to vote, where does Canadian citizenship stand?
A poignant and pertinent letter from Canadian actor Donald Sutherland addresses the issue in a way that makes it impossible not to see the wrongness of it. People have their reasons to live where they live but being a Canadian citizen does not come with an expiration date, nor is it conditioned by where you live.
Are we to expel people from our Canadian midst because they live abroad? Many take a deep interest in what is happening in their own country and their reasons to vote are not to undermine our democracy or well-being, but rather guard against anything that might harm it. Many of them have families still living here and it is in everyone’s interest to safeguard the values of the Canadian society, whether you live here or not.
Some say that Canada does not take a patriotic stand, compared to other countries. Well, this comes as close as one can ask for. People who live outside the countries boundaries are and feel Canadian enough to fight for their right to vote.
While some countries do not allow for dual citizenship, in case of those who choose to get a second one, Canada does not impose such rules. Not yet anyway.
While there are way too many Canadian citizens who live in Canada permanently and, upon seeing – one can hope everyone does – the happenings in our social and political environments, choose to forgo adding their vote, there is nothing wrong and everything right about allowing those who live abroad and want to vote the right to do so. If anything, our government, true to honouring every citizen of our country as every citizen is expected to honour the country by caring and thus voting, should go above and beyond in making sure that everyone who holds a Canadian passport has a place to vote.
Because every vote counts. More so in a country where a lot has been happening and many are crying foul over recent decisions of the present government. More so in a country that many decry the slow but steady disappearance of democratic values.
Would a democratic society allow its citizens to be kept in the dark about many political decisions (let’s call them done deals) that the government makes, decisions that cannot be revoked for a few decades and could possibly affect the country, its resources and, ultimately, its citizens?
Would a democratic society allow knowledge to be pushed to the side, through destroying reference libraries and having scientists who oppose the present government’s proposals muzzled because that would affect the financial gains of big corporate giants?
Would a democratic society allow for any of its citizens to be stripped of their right to vote unless they willingly renounce their Canadian citizenship?
A country’s affairs are never solely a country’s affairs. They pertain to the whole world because, nowadays more than ever, we are facing the reality of ‘we are all citizens of the world’. We are, each and every one of us, and that makes it every one’s responsibility to make tomorrow better. Think climate change for example.
Climate change issues that have been surfacing lately, seen in severe weather patterns affecting many countries, more or less directly, and endangering the future of many who are already on the brink of hardship, also seen in our immediate environment here in our own province, represent a global call to action that has been acknowledged by many political figures.
That Canada has been missing from most of the meetings addressing these global issues after retiring from the Kyoto protocol, more so when some of the economic ventures of our country contribute to the said issues, makes one wonder whether Canadian citizens have their right to speak up and express their views as one would in a democracy respected at all.
If our democracy is strong and reinforced from within, nothing from the outside can damage it, not a few votes by well-intended citizens anyway.
While Canadians living abroad may not know the nitty gritty of every day social and political events here, they have a say in what elections bring because their passport gives them the right to do so. If anything, a view from afar adds yet another opinion about our life here. And if a country relies on true democratic values, opinions, whether they are pro and cons, would only offer opportunities to revisit the said values.