It's nice to see everybody again. Last time, it was around the electoral reform issue, and I want to put on the record that I sincerely appreciate all the effort and the time you put in even if it didn't really turn into anything. It was a great example of a parliamentary committee at work.
It's a privilege to have been here a few times before. In case you don't recall who we are and what we do, I'll explain that we're a Canadian civic education charity that works to develop the habits and skills of citizenship within students under the voting age.
Our primary piece of work is the student vote program, which is a parallel election for kids under the voting age. You may have been aware of that. We're running one in Ontario right now. We expect probably around 300,000 kids to go through that process by Thursday of this week.
An interesting addition to our work is that we ran our first student vote outside of Canada in Colombia two weeks ago, with 31,000 kids participating. Hopefully, that will open us up to more countries and we can export our Canadian democratic values.
We've also started a new program that's all about news literacy and “mis-, dis-, and mal-information”, which relates a bit to what's in this bill. That's something that I might bring up later.
It's a privilege to be here. I can't say that I object to much—or maybe anything—in the proposed bill. I'm really comfortable giving more time to Duff, who might have some more specific points. There are some things I can comment on around the preregistration, and maybe a little bit around the foreign interference, with what we've learned over the last few months, and then on another couple of small points.
I'm happy to give up my time to Duff or to end short so that you guys can have a break and plan for your next session.
Thank you to the committee for the opportunity to testify before you today.
I am testifying here in my role as co-founder of Democracy Watch, which, if you are not aware, is a citizen advocacy group. We've been working since 1993 to make Canada the world's leading democracy, pushing for changes to require everyone in politics to be honest, ethical, open, and representative, and to prevent waste. A total of 190,000 people have signed up to send a letter or petition in one or another of our campaigns from across Canada.
Today, my submission is based largely, as Mr. Gunn mentioned, on earlier submissions made to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
Bill makes many good changes, reversing many of the unfair changes made by the 2014 so-called Fair Elections Act, but the Democracy Watch position is that the negative effects of many of the changes in that act were exaggerated. As a result, the reversal of those changes will likely have little overall effect on what actually happens in elections. Like the 2014 Fair Elections Act, Bill C-76 unfortunately doesn't live up to its name. It's called the elections modernization act, but like the Fair Elections Act, it allows many old-fashioned, unfair, and undemocratic election practices to continue, as follows:
Number one, of course, the vote-counting system doesn't count votes in a fair way, and usually produces false majority governments. It also doesn't allow voters to vote “none of the above”—a key option that voters should have, and already have in four provinces—and it doesn't fully fix election dates, as the U.K. has, to stop unfair snap election calls.
Number two, it continues to allow the baiting of voters with false promises in ads. The Canada Elections Act prohibits inducing voters to vote for anyone by—and this is the actual wording—“any pretence or contrivance”. However, the commissioner of Canada elections refuses to apply that measure to a blatantly false promise or false statement made during an election. A clearly worded “honest promises” requirement, with significant penalties, is clearly needed. It's the number one hot-button issue for voters: even if they vote for the party that wins, they don't get what they voted for because of blatantly false promises.
While clause 61 of the bill adds some specifics to the measures in sections 91 and 92 of the Canadian Elections Act concerning false statements about candidates, the measures actually significantly narrow the range of prohibited false statements. That is a move in the wrong direction. Dishonesty in elections should be broadly defined and discouraged. It's a fundamental voter rights issue. They have the right to an honest campaign so that they know what they're voting for honestly, and misleaders, as opposed to leaders, should be discouraged with significant penalties.
Related to that, the bill does not do nearly enough to stop the new form of false claims, secret false online election ads, including by foreigners. Bill trusts social media companies to self-regulate, only holding them accountable if they “knowingly” allow a foreign ad, but not saying anything at all in terms of their knowingly or in any other way allowing a false domestic ad. Again, clause 61 narrows the definition of “false statements”, but it still would be illegal to make a false statement about a candidate.
In terms of the “knowingly” standard, the social media companies will easily be able to come up with evidence that they didn't know an ad had been placed. It's not going to be enforceable. They'll get off every time, so that doesn't discourage them from allowing secret, false, online election ads by people in the country or foreigners.
Media and social media companies should be required to report all details about every election-related ad to Elections Canada during the six months leading up to an election, so that Elections Canada can check whether the ad is false, whether it exceeds the third party spending limits, and whether it is paid for by a foreigner. All those three things are illegal, but if Elections Canada can't see those ads, which they can't because they're micro-targeted, how are they going to enforce those laws against false and foreign-sponsored ads, and ads that exceed the third party spending limits?
Don't trust the social media companies to self-regulate in this area. Require them to report every ad to Elections Canada. During those six months, empower Elections Canada to order a clearly false or illegal ad because it's foreign or exceeds the spending limits to be deleted from a media and social media site and impose significant fines on the violators.
In terms of what the bill also does not address, annual donations are still too high. Bill doesn't do anything about this. As a result, the parties all rely on a small pool of large donors who donate thousands of dollars or more. That facilitates funnelling as SNC-Lavalin was caught doing. It also facilitates lobbyists bundling donations to buy influence. That's all undemocratic and unfair.
There are seven practices the bill does not address that should be switched to be overseen by Elections Canada or other watchdogs.
One is unfair nomination races. Elections Canada should be running all of them. The reform act has not changed anything. All the parties have handed back to party leaders the power to approve election candidates, sometimes with someone in their party headquarters' office as a screen.
Another is unfair leadership races. Elections Canada should be overseeing them.
Another is questionable auditing. Elections Canada should be auditing parties, candidates, and third parties.
Another is unfair election debates. Elections Canada or a commission should be running them with their rules. Hopefully a bill making that change will come soon, before the next election.
Another is biased election polling station supervision. The ruling party and second party choose those people and can force the returning officer to appoint whom they want. Elections Canada should be appointing all the polling station returning officers.
There is the questionable use of voter information. The bill does not extend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, to the parties. The law should be extended to the parties with the Privacy Commissioner doing enforcement.
Another is unfair government advertising. Hopefully there will be a bill coming on that as well with the Auditor General or Elections Canada empowered to stop any ads that are partisan in the six months leading up to an election, and a full prohibition on government ads during the three months before an election.
There is the third party spending limits area. There's no way to stop Canadian businesses and citizen groups receiving foreign money from entities that frees up other money they have to use for third party election advocacy activities, unless you're going to prohibit foreign-owned businesses in Canada and foreign contributions to citizen groups completely. This bill does go quite far in requiring the separate bank account to be set up. I think the problem with it is it's discrimination against citizen groups that take donations versus unions and corporations that are also third parties. It's very easy for them to shift money into this bank account, but a third party is going to have to do special fundraising to get money into that account if it's a citizen group. It's going to make it much more difficult for citizen groups. They are allowed to donate into the account from their own funds that they may have gathered throughout the year, obviously not foreign funds. I think the overall effect is going to make it much more difficult for citizen groups to gather any funds compared to unions or corporations.
The disclosure of the reports and the limits are all good as well, but you need a limit on government advertising as well to make it fair for everyone leading up to the pre-writ drop period and the election period. Overall, I don't see any reason to increase the third party limit during the election period. That's a bad idea. That's a move in an undemocratic direction because it would allow wealthier interests to spend more. The cost of online ads is much less than traditional advertising was when the limits were first set. Even though the new limit covers more expenses, including surveys and going door to door and things like that kind of outreach, I don't see a reason to increase the limit. I think it's a move in a bad direction. How was the limit chosen? How were all the limits chosen? Are they based on anything? Are they based on looking at what parties spent on ads in the pre-writ period in the 2015 election, before the 2011 election?
It's the same with third parties. Is it based on anything that's been reported to Elections Canada? I know that the figures in 2004 limiting third parties were arbitrary, but now we have some track record and I think it should be examined.
I'll just finish with this point. The limits as stated in the government's backgrounder are not the same as what's in the bill. I'm quite confused by huge discrepancies in the amounts. The pre-writ limit for party spending says $1.5 million in the backgrounder, but in the bill, it says $1.1 million. In the backgrounder, it says it's adjusted for 2019 figures based on inflation, which is 30% inflation which we don't have now. All the limits are the same. For third parties, there's a $300,000 gap between what it says in the bill and the backgrounder, and for a riding there's a $3,000 gap.
An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Duff Conacher: The pre-writ period and the writ period. I'm not sure where those figures came from in the backgrounder.
I would just make the overall point: how are these limits set? Why not look at what parties actually spent in the pre-writ period leading up to the 2011, 2015 elections. It's the same with the third parties and what they spent during the election. Set a limit based on that. I don't think any of the limits are very meaningful—any of them—because very few parties are going to spend that amount in July and August. People don't usually run big ad campaigns in July and August, especially for voters, because they're not paying attention until September after the writ is dropped.
Finally, overall enforcement must be increased. The fines must be increased. The watchdogs must be made much more independent. The length of time for bringing complaints must be extended from 30 days after an election to one year.
I welcome your questions about any of those points. Thank you again for the opportunity.
They're probably the best tools you'd have for any adult, as well. As far as turnout in elections goes, in my opinion—and Duff, I'm pretty sure, would have a couple of additional points—there are so many different factors in the circle of attracting someone to participate. Obviously, I'd put civic education at the foundation of that.
Then you have things such as whether the election is competitive. Is it a change election? You still have citizens who will feel that their vote doesn't count. That's based on the electoral system, and nothing is happening on that one.
You have things such as how people receive their information in elections. You do have accessibility. This came from the national youth survey that Elections Canada has now done twice. There are motivation factors, accessibility factors. All those things come into play, and all of them have to be done at the same time. You can't rely just on civic education, for example.
I still would suggest and advise to anyone that the most effective dollars spent on potentially grooming a young person into a citizen is civic education. Then, of course, it comes down to education that is not just out of a textbook, making sure it's experiential. I'd point out that especially when you get into things such as cyber-threats or foreign interference in our elections, you can do the top-down...or the advice that you have in the bill of how people detect these ads and this sort of thing, but if you're not doing the bottom-up at the same time, almost like citizen preparedness or resiliency, you won't get the effect you're looking for.
Outside of this bill are things such as empowering organizations to do the things that Elections Canada either doesn't have the ambitions or aspirations to do, and being more aggressive in tackling these types of challenges. I know that's out of your hands, but someone should be concerned with it, because there isn't a mechanism right now for groups like ours, and maybe others, to be creative.
I think the interim report that's required will help, because not only will the third party have to register but you'll get some indication of where contributions are coming from. Overall, I think Elections Canada should be empowered to audit and be proactively auditing these things as they go.
I've said this, I believe, before the committee before. This is a very difficult area. Once the election happens, unless there's outright fraud and it has very clearly affected the election, it's almost impossible to get a judge to say, “I'm going to overturn what tens of thousands of people just did.”
Therefore, you need to be doing real-time auditing, checking, verifying, and going in with the power to say, “I want to see all of your emails from the last log”, and things like that, to ensure that those kinds of things aren't happening.
After the fact, you can penalize people to discourage them, but what they win is a lot. They win power. There are lots of people out there, I think, who would be willing to be the sacrificial lamb who goes to jail for a couple of years to have their party win power.
Empower Elections Canada much more, both on the secret, fake, foreign, and false online election ads and on everything else, to be in there having full disclosure so they can stop anything that is unfair and undemocratic.
I was under the misapprehension that I was going to be one of five, but it turned out that the five are the entire morning session, rather than just this hour. That is okay with me, but it means that I haven't prepared an exhaustive critique or analysis of Bill . I'm just going to talk about the things that are of particular interest to me and where I think I can make a contribution.
The first thing is you will see in my presentation that I've done this before. It's nice to come to such a situation and be basically positive, rather than be here to criticize and be negative, which is the more normal situation for people like me. Much of my efforts have been around electoral reform. That experience was slightly less positive, if I may say, than this one will turn out to be, I think.
I think that I was in front of the same committee—although I think it was across the street from Parliament—being critical of the Fair Elections Act for various problems with it that seemed to have been rectified in Bill , which I was happy to see presented way back when. I had assumed that this issue was now going to be resolved, but it turns out it's only now that the process continues. It has been widened, as I don't have to tell you, with a number of other areas.
From my point of view, the crucial aspect is access to make it easier for people to inform themselves. That's my specialization, political knowledge. I've published a great deal about that, including the political knowledge of young people, by comparing different countries, including Canada, and physical access to the voting booth in terms of some of the restrictions that were brought into the Fair Elections Act that have been removed in Bill .
In my own work, my particular concern has been on the political knowledge aspect, so I was very concerned with the Fair Elections Act's efforts to reduce the ability of Elections Canada to provide information, especially to young people, but not only to young people, so they would be more able to participate in an election at the right time. I think that those aspects of Bill have found their way into Bill , in terms of the role of Elections Canada, in terms of allowing registration before the age, in fact, encouraging young people to register before the age of 18, as well as other aspects, which are not just for young people, but for people with handicaps and so on. I'm very happy to see that.
In terms of what I would like to see added, there's only one aspect that seems to me to be missing. Once one is really looking at the entire electoral process—and I know there was some discussion of it in the consultation process that took place—perhaps regulate the question of leaders debates during the election period. Set up a process that would be standardized, so that people could expect it. I know that's a complicated issue and I certainly don't want to delay the implementation process, but I do think it's missing from a law that tries to be quite comprehensive about the way we run election campaigns.
My other problem wasn't part of the Fair Elections Act, but with the way the last election was run. It was that it was so long. I don't have to remind you that it lasted more than 11 weeks, I think. That was tied to a change—a change which I had something to do with—namely, fixed election dates. I testified before that, especially in the Senate committee, that was responsible for that issue. I have talked about that in other places, including the House of Lords in London.
When fixed election dates were adopted—and the 2015 election took place under fixed election dates—this silly idea of now doubling the time for the campaign was combined with it, which of course made us look bad, those of us who favoured fixed election dates. People were saying now it's a free-for-all, that it lasts forever, and all kinds of money is being spent. I'm glad to see that we're going back to a seven-week campaign like in the Fair Elections Act. That's the one additional factor that I think is very important, and there are some other specific procedures around this that I'm in favour of. I don't have anything particular to say about them.
My real concern is that this happen. We have an election coming up in a year and a half and I'm concerned that the necessary aspects of this law won't be implemented early enough so that they can actually work appropriately. I'm torn between wanting to improve Bill in any possible way and wanting it to move quickly. Having it move quickly is, I think, in many ways more important, especially the information aspect and so on. We would like to see Elections Canada again able to implement its various information programs.
I have to tell you—and I don't know how many of you are aware of this—that there's a very absurd thing taking place next week in Toronto. I'm not sure how many of you are aware. Probably none of you are aware, but a citizens' group tied to the Canadian Federation of Students.... I think I have it here if you'll just give me a minute. The Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, and some individuals hired a law firm to contest the Fair Elections Act. I was one of those who wrote affidavits for this contestation, which is only now coming before the Ontario Supreme Court. All of us—there are several of us, though not as many as you'll be hearing from—those of us who opposed the Fair Elections Act, are required now to be cross-examined by government lawyers to defend our criticism of the Fair Elections Act, which, of course, will no longer exist, hopefully, very soon.
I guess the business of Parliament moves slowly. I found it quite strange, but when I was speaking to the law firm that's running all of this, I asked them why they wouldn't just drop it. They said they weren't sure that the new legislation replacing the Fair Elections Act would be implemented in time, so they had to go ahead. This will all be taking place in Toronto next week.
Finally, I want to stress that I am anxious to see this move ahead, so that it will all be in place in time for the next election.
I have to say that one of the reasons I'm a little bit cynical about how this body moves on it with what seems to be happening or should be happening is my experience with the electoral reform. I was one of a great many political science and other experts in this area who came before this body. We were a very large majority of experts who testified in favour of electoral reform, and it seemed that our voices were going to be heard as part of the process, and then, as I don't need to tell you, we know how that came out.
I don't want to be too cynical but I do want to stress the importance of moving forward with this so that this bill will be in place in time to be implemented correctly for the next election.
Thank you very much.
Let me say to the specific aspects of Bill that I think we're doing what we can. We're not going to change our entire institutional system to be like theirs, but within our institution, I think we are applying it appropriately. They have other institutions. I can't speak for every country, but essentially they would certainly not be inhibited in terms of informing people and making various kinds of institutional access available, especially to young people.
I could talk about my last book, The Internet Generation, and some very interesting examples from other countries I've been to, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and so on, in terms of how to inform young people about politics. In fact, if we do have a bit of extra time, I'd love to tell you about it because it's really quite interesting. It's not directly relevant to this but it's very interesting, and it's something that a version of which we could actually do at both the provincial and federal levels.
Specifically, of course—this brings me back to my last point—one of the things we could learn is to change our electoral system. I've argued and written about how I think a proportional system does in fact result over time in a more informed citizenry. It's a long academic argument based on evidence and so on, but I have made it in the past, and I think it can be made.
If one is interested in a citizenry that—again, none of these things are absolute and black and white—is more likely to inform themselves about relevant issues before an election, I would argue that we can learn from these countries. Most European countries, as you know, have proportional representation, as does New Zealand now, and Australia has it for the upper chamber. There is a relationship, but again, that's not the issue of importance at this committee.
It's not my research, but there are researchers. The best known is a man named Mark Franklin, an American but a comparative expert. He's made that argument, and I think convincingly, that not voting in the first election or the first couple of elections—not everybody, clearly a minority—but it has an effect on reducing voting later on.
There's a habit aspect to voting, just as there is to many things. Yes, you vote sometimes because of what's happening then. Suddenly there's an issue that really matters to you and so on, or a particular political leader you like or dislike, but there's also the habit aspect. You know an election is coming up, and you vote.
To develop a habit makes a difference. Mark's argument, which I share to some extent, is that the way to do that better is to start voting at 16 because young people are more likely to be around other people who are voting, namely their family, because they're still living at home. I'm not persuaded completely of that. That's why I put a lot of emphasis on civic education at the age of 14, 15, 16, which I would connect with voting at 16.
If you have a good system of civic education—because I think you should vote knowledgeably, not just because your mother is going to the polls, and you're joining her even though you don't know who the parties are.... It's the combination of the two. In Norway, for example, they've done some tests, and they found that it really doesn't seem to make very much difference whether you vote at 16 or whether your first vote is at 18, but that's because they have a very strong civic education program already. That's why I'm a bit more reluctant to say that voting at 16 will get a higher turnout. I'd say voting at 16 and civic education, a good civic education program like in Norway or in other countries will get long-term improvement. That would be my argument.
Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before the procedure and House affairs committee on Bill .
Before I get into the bill, I'll make some general comments about political finance regulation in Canada. We've been regulating spending and contributions for candidates, parties, and third parties in some form or another since 1974. Every once in a while, the rules get reviewed or reconsidered in light of new realities with respect to democracy, elections, political culture, and things like that. At the heart of all these debates about political finance are some fundamental questions about democracy and political expression. It's always a balancing act between freedom of expression and the public interest, and maintaining a level playing field for political competitors. Neither of these is pursued by regulation to the complete detriment of the other: we need the balance, and that's where the charter comes in. The charter protects that.
It's been the norm historically, in connection with the charter, for political finance laws to end up in court, and there's been some very thoughtful jurisprudence on the role of the state in regulating money in politics. The terrain is shifting now, however, and I would say that money is no longer a reliable proxy for political expression. It used to be that debates and paid prime-time ads were the way to reach people, but now—and in connection with Mr. Cullen's comments—it's Twitter, Facebook, clickbait, Instagram, and micro-targeted email messages. This type of political expression poses a completely new regulatory challenge because, for the most part, it is low cost or free. Talking about spending limits and contribution limits is a little bit offside. Spending limits only get to part of the issue, and, I would suggest, an increasingly smaller part as we go on.
Nevertheless, here we are on Bill . The theme is modernization. Democracy is changing for many reasons, and the law needs to catch up. The bill, as members are aware, covers a lot of ground. Some major areas of concentration, like establishing pre-writ spending limits for parties and third parties, aren't a huge surprise. We've seen this in Ontario. Given the constant campaign, campaigning all the time, imposing limits only once the writ is dropped is seen as arbitrary. The bill limits the writ period to 50 days. It increases transparency around the activities of third parties in a few ways: by requiring third parties to identify themselves in political advertising; by requiring them to keep separate bank accounts to allow their political activity to be seen a bit more clearly when you open up the books; and including things like polling in the expenditures that are limited, which is not the case now. It's an area where third parties are now able to spend in a way that's unlimited, but political parties are not. Also, there are measures to make voting more accessible, including the creation of a register of future electors.
I have a couple of comments on what the bill doesn't do. Third parties can still take unlimited donations from organizations, while political parties and candidates cannot. For over a decade now, contributions coming to candidates and parties from organizations, as opposed to individuals, have not been allowed. This creates an unbalanced playing field and perhaps creates an incentive for wealthier people or organizations to make unlimited donations to third parties.
The issue of foreign money is very tough to regulate, and largely because third parties are often doing many things. They're not just political actors, and they're not just contesting elections. They're also doing charitable work, advocacy work, educational work, and working with partners in other countries. So it's very difficult to impose particular rules during the campaign period or for election spending by third parties. You used to be able to take foreign money for some things, but now for this purpose, during this time, you can't. It's very difficult to police. On some level you don't want to go too far with it because then you're choking off funds used for other purposes, and we want organizations to be able to do those things, presumably. It comes down to how to regulate third party spending and activity that relates to elections.
Many observers have expressed concern over the possibility of foreign involvement in Canadian elections. We have to work on that. We have to be able to make Canadians feel that it's not going to be a problem, and that we are aware of what foreign influence could look like. Again, I think this relates significantly to issues of digital democracy, cybersecurity. Regulating money is not really going far enough and it's not really getting at what people's major concerns are.
I'll leave it there and allow my colleague to speak.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I'm the executive director of the Canadian Citizens Rights Council, which brings together organizational and individual members to invest in a vision of a renewed Canada leading the world in citizens' rights and freedoms.
Our comments today centre on universal voting rights. Bill does the right thing by restoring full federal voting rights to Canadian citizens abroad. Canadians support this universal right. We urge you to preserve these provisions in the bill and support a timely and fair implementation.
First of all, supporting the right to vote from abroad is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do because doing nothing harms Canadians. Canadian history has been marked by a steady progression towards universal voting rights, beginning with the enfranchisement of women, then racialized minorities and people who don't own property, Inuit, first nations peoples, federal judges, people with mental disabilities, people with no fixed address, and lastly, prisoners, yet the current five-year rule at issue before the Supreme Court of Canada denies at least one million citizens the right to vote and sends a clear message of exclusion.
These are not hobby voters. Canadians abroad are subject to tax laws, criminal laws, foreign anti-corruption laws, and special economic measures, and they benefit from the right of entry to Canada from foreign soil, Canada pension benefits, citizenship laws, and immigration laws.
Moreover, it's the right thing to do because Canadians abroad benefit Canada. Canadians living and working abroad are directly and indirectly responsible for billions of dollars in bilateral trade. They are exceptionally well educated, linguistically adept, and culturally bilingual. They are our cultural and economic ambassadors. The more we as a country engage them, the more Canada will prosper.
Second, Canadians get this. Over time, Canadians maintain an overwhelming connectedness to Canada, but less so to their home province or municipality. Correspondingly, in 2011, the Environics Institute found that 69% of Canadians thought Canadians abroad should vote in federal elections. This bill strongly aligns with public opinion.
Finally, we ask you to support enfranchising provisions in this bill and to support a timely and fair implementation. When amendments are offered at clause-by-clause consideration, we ask members of this committee to preserve enfranchising language as is, without amendments that would limit the population of eligible voters. We also ask you to support a timely and fair implementation.
Recognizing Elections Canada's time constraints, we urge swift passage of this bill. We also urge members to avoid new identification or other requirements that have been demonstrated to reduce turnout elsewhere.
This is a historic opportunity to let all Canadians vote. It's the right thing to do, and Canadians support it. We applaud the enfranchising provisions of this bill and urge their preservation and timely implementation.
Thank you. I welcome any questions you might have.
In answer to the question about which prime minister lost in the east and then ran for a seat in the west, Sir John A. Macdonald lost in Kingston, which even in those days was not a reliable Conservative seat. He ran on Vancouver Island, which he never actually visited, but he won.
An hon. member: Is that right?
Mr. Scott Reid: Yes, that's true.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier lost in Quebec and ran in Saskatchewan. Again, I don't think he actually visited his riding. Mackenzie King also wound up being a Saskatchewan MP at one point.
Those are the ones I know of. There may have been others. Anyway, it has happened.
I want to ask Mr. Emery a question with regard to the issue of Canadians being abroad, out of the country, for more than five years and their voting rights. It is a charter right, under section 3 of the charter, to vote.
Do you regard that as an absolute right, as opposed to a right on which reasonable restrictions that are “justified in a free and democratic society” can be imposed? Of course, I'm using the language of section 1 of the charter, which is the section that allows for some limitations to be placed on other parts of the charter.