Voter suppression in Quebec

I honestly cannot believe that I have occasion to write about the ugly politics of voter suppression in Quebec. Until recently, I assumed that all political parties in the province were committed to respecting the integrity of the electoral process and would not engage in political rhetoric designed to disenfranchise legitimate voters. But a desperate Pauline Marois has decided to play the democratic theft card. She has been quoted as saying: “It makes me sick to my stomach to even think that someone would try to cheat the democratic system”.  

One might assume that her queasiness was occasioned by the recording of a McGill PhD student being denied the right to vote by an official in St. Henri. But no. Apparently, her nausea was created by the thought that citizens whose political support she cannot count upon might be granted the right to vote. Marois’s putative concern was echoed by Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud who raised the specter of voter fraud when he asked: “Will the Quebec election be stolen by people from Ontario and from the rest of Canada?” Marois and St-Arnaud clearly don’t want Anglophone students residing in Quebec to have the right to vote in the Quebec election.  And they want to win political sympathy for their own party by conjuring up the image of anti-democratic Anglo interlopers from outside Quebec. So they’d rather characterize the students seeking the franchise as sickening threats to democracy. But the real story here is voter suppression.

Unfortunately, in the last couple of days, the idea that Anglo students pose a threat to democracy has been given an air of credibility in light of comments about the supposed complexities in determining whether a person residing in Quebec is eligible to vote. A few days ago the Elections Quebec website provided a rather straightforward account of the eligibility to vote in the Quebec provincial election. One had to: (a) be 18 years old or more; (b) be a Canadian citizen; and (c) be domiciled in Québec for six months. But in wake of Marois’s comments and the controversy they generated, the website has recently been updated to provide a more fulsome account of the putatively elusive idea of what it means to be domiciled in Quebec.  Marois thinks in ascertaining whether people have the right to vote in Quebec it is pertinent to ask “Do they have a Quebec driver’s license…?’”  And although the connection between a Quebec driver’s license and the right to vote was not indicated on the Elections Quebec website a few days ago, it is now cited as relevant evidence of for being domiciled in Quebec.

So what does one have to do to acquire a Quebec driver’s license that can be used in turn to secure one’s right to vote? Well, if you are a Canadian citizen who has a driver’s license from another province, you need only exchange your license for a Quebec license. Oh but wait, you need proof of Quebec residency too. And what might that consist in? Here the guide from the LE DIRECTEUR GÉNÉRAL DES ÉLECTIONS DU QUÉBEC about what it means to be domiciled is helpful. It says: “A lease, along with invoices from service providers such as Hydro-Québec, Vidéotron, Bell, and so on, certainly serve as proof of residence”.  (The guide goes on to say that being a resident in Quebec does not itself establish that one is domiciled in Quebec.)

Let’s review, the doublespeak carefully: Some documents  – leases and invoices etc.- are not themselves sufficient evidence of being domiciled in Quebec.  (When presented with such documents and proof of Canadian citizenship, a elections official can ‘doubt’ whether one is domiciled in Quebec. And that doubt is sufficient to deny one the right to vote.) But such documents are sufficient evidence of being a resident of Quebec. And a resident of Quebec from another province who is a Canadian citizen can exchange a driver’s license from another province for a Quebec’s driver’s license. Such a person can then use the Quebec’s driver’s license to establish that they are domiciled in Quebec.  

Does it all seem absurd or is it just me?

The supposedly complexities of ‘being domiciled’ are just part of an elaborate subterfuge that is designed lend a cloak of legitimacy to the suppression of the votes of citizens living in Quebec who have a democratic right to vote in the election. The hanging chads of Florida that once seemed so alien to Canadian democracy don’t seem so distant today.



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