Denied the Right to Vote… Again?

In the 1995 referendum, non-francophone students complained they were being discriminated against and prevented from voting. Sound familiar?

Today, several out-of-province university students in Montreal are claiming that they, too, are being unfairly denied the right to vote in the upcoming provincial election.

This story by Ingrid Hein and graphic by Jeff Nearing originally appeared on Oct. 31, 1995 in Volume 16, Issue 15 of The Link.

Students denied right to vote

Students were left bewildered after being arbitrarily interrogated and denied the right to vote at the polls yesterday.

Voting procedures were completely chaotic, according to a lawyer from the No committee at the Sherbrooke and Simpson streets polling station, in the Westmount-St. Louis riding.

“We had the police at the polling station twice today,” said the lawyer at the Unitarian Church polling station, who didn’t want to be named. “We almost got into fist fights with reps from the Oui committee.”

Sarah Fowlie, a Concordia student working at the CSU-run housing and job bank, said she was completely denied the right to vote for reasons she cannot figure out. “There were three polling clerks behind the desk. One of them had my name, the other two had it scratched out. They wouldn’t let me vote.”

Fowlie went to the Directeur du scrutin on de Maisonneuve and was told she couldn’t vote, the decision was final and there was no appeal process.

“I’m freaked out,” she said. “I totally feel discriminated against, but I can’t figure out why.”

Bible Thumpers

The lawyer from the No side argued that a lot of non-francophone voters were being discriminated against. Poll clerks were harassing voters, asking them to re-affirm their identity by swearing on the Bible.

“When they’re (the polling clerks) suspicious they can ask, but it’s happening way too much. They are swearing in ethnics, students and people speaking in english [sic].”

Voters who were challenged had to swear on the Bible or give a solemn declaration as to their identity.

Sanya Kiruluta, a second-year computer science major, was asked to swear she was actually in her home the day she was enumerated.

Dawson student Michelle Morrison was asked to swear on the Bible that she really was Michelle Morrison. She said a poll clerk contested that she was resident of Quebec and asked her to swear on the Bible.

“I told them I could show I.D. but they didn’t want it,” said Morrison, who lives in the McGill area. “Maybe they thought I have only been living here for a couple of months,” she added.

Helene Larocque, of the chief electoral office of Quebec said poll clerks have the right to ask people to swear on the Bible, or give a solemn oath that they are really the person they claim to be.

“You couldn’t use I.D., can’t use a driver’s license. You have to swear on the Bible. They will probably not ask for I.D.,” she said.

Questionable Enumeration Practices

However, some students never even got as far as the polling stations. Many were never enumerated, despite going to great lengths to get on the list.

300 Bishop’s University students protested two weeks ago after being kept off the voters’ lists.

McGill student Adam Jamieson said his experience trying to get enumerated was frustrating and horrendous. He waited four hours in a line-up at the office of the chief returning officer with his lease, passport, driver’s license and other identification in hand, but was still turned away.

“I wasn’t the only one. There were tons of people turned away, some of them were crying in the stairwell.”

Noah Beggs, a fourth year arts and science student at Concordia said he and his roommate were rejected after they showed all the relevant documents—and their B.C. health cards—to enumerators.

“They (the office of the chief returning officer) asked my roommate ‘How do we know you’re not going back to Vancouver?’”
According to Mario Couture, the returning officer for the Westmount-St. Louis reducing, potential voters were asked for their medicare cards because it was a proof of domicile in Quebec.

Couture explained that representatives from both camps decided who was eligible to vote.

Students were asked for their medicare cards because possessing a health card from another province means they are still eligible to vote in their home province.

As with any provincial election this means they are not eligible to vote in Quebec, explained Couture.

Concordia philosophy student John Lee ran into similar disputes with an enumeration officer. “The tone was that they didn’t want you to be enumerated,” he said. “It was the questions they asked, like, ‘Are you planning to stay in the province?’” Lee noted that he has been living in Quebec for two years, and is a Canadian citizen.

Nigel Lall, the proprietor of Café Cirque, a coffee shop near Concordia, was also denied the right to vote. “They said I didn’t have adequate proof of domicile,” he said. “I had my lease with me for the business. I pay 70 to 80 thousand dollars [sic] to Quebec in tax per year and I can’t vote because I haven’t got a medicare card.”

Lall said he was escorted out of the office of the deputy returning officer by a security guard.

“Once they start denying the right to vote, where’s the democracy in this country?”

additional reporting Gen Napier

A Definite Maybe: Memories of the 1995 Referendum »

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