Mamidosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Committee of the Whole respecting the subject matter of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Committee of the Whole respecting the subject matter of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Senator Dennis Dawson: 

Thank you for your answers. These are answers to questions I was asked last week and couldn’t answer, so thank you for being here. I think it’s important that you’re here to answer questions as representatives of your organizations, because time is of the essence. It is vital that we shorten the time between the introduction of the bill and its passage, because its content needs to be implemented in time for the next election. This seems quite urgent to me.

There are a few issues that were raised last week but weren’t covered in your remarks today.

How are we making voting easier for both Canadians with disabilities and Canadians of Indigenous communities that don’t have a traditional address? And what about the identification of voters by third parties?

Finally, since I want to leave time for other senators to ask questions, how much fraud have you heard about in the past? How many times did these people supposedly do this and how many complaints have you had during the last few elections?

Stéphane Perrault, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Elections Canada: In terms of voter impersonation, which I suppose is what you’re referring to, there are very rare cases. There was one case in the last election where a person claimed to have impersonated someone else. These matters are referred to the commissioner. I’m not aware of the overall numbers. The commissioner may be in a better position to speak to that. We’re not aware of any organized activity in terms of voter fraud, double voting or impersonation. There are rare instances of double votes, but these are treated by the commissioner.

You raised the question of accessibility. There are quite a range of measures in Bill C-76 to assist voters who have a disability. Let me mention a few.

There’s an obligation in the bill for Elections Canada to develop assistive technology for voters with disabilities to help them vote independently. Of course, if this is technology to be used in the voting process, before it’s used in a live election, it will require the approval of the committees of the House of Commons and the Senate.

The rules on level access in the act right now will be replaced by rules to make all polling places accessible, which is a much more fulsome obligation.

There are measures in the bill to allow voters and candidates with disabilities to use their personal funds or funds from their campaigns to pay for assistance in their election. These are just the first things that come to mind, but there’s a whole range of measures. This is a bill that, in many ways, tries to make the vote more inclusive.

You also mentioned the problem of Indigenous voters who do not necessarily have a traditional residential address. This is a problem. Right now it’s difficult for them to prove their address. They don’t have documentary proof of address. We rely mainly on either vouching or a letter of attestation by a band leader to allow them to prove their address. That is a problem, from my point of view, because it does not allow them to vote independently. Autonomy is a very important aspect of voting. Voting is an expression of equality and it’s an expression of autonomy. If you, as a voter, have to rely on somebody else to attest to your ability to vote, you are depriving the electorate of the dignity of voting independently.

The bill would allow those electors to use the voter information card with another piece of ID — a health card or another document — to prove not only who they are but also where they reside. That would help them to vote and to vote independently.

Senator Dawson: If I understand correctly, Mr. Côté, this bill gives you the authority to lay charges. Whether it’s a case of fraud in another country or in Canada, you have the authority to lay charges more quickly and efficiently than in the past. Is that the objective of your new authority?

Yves Côté, Commissioner of Canada Elections: Senator, I may have two or three things to say about that. The investigative tools that Bill C-76 would provide, if passed as is, would enable us to obtain a court order, in certain particularly difficult situations, to compel someone to testify who might otherwise be hesitant or refuse to testify. This would enable us to take action more quickly in the more difficult investigations.

Another important point that I also mentioned in my opening statement is that, going forward, Bill C-76 would give the commissioner the authority to lay charges, instead of having to submit proposed charges to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who then decides whether charges should be laid.

That said, we must keep in mind that laying charges against individuals who are living out of the country is always very complicated. It can be difficult to collect evidence if, for example, the person of interest is living in St. Petersburg, or if the individual is a citizen of another country and is not coming to Canada. We must understand that our ability to charge these individuals and bring them before Canadian courts becomes extremely limited.

Senator Dawson: Thank you.