Federal court orders review of election date that coincides with Jewish holiday

The Federal Court has ordered the chief electoral officer to review his decision to not recommend a change in the scheduled federal election date — October 21 — which coincides with a Jewish holiday.

Orthodox Jewish candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is running for the Conservatives in the Toronto-area riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and Ira Walfish, an Orthodox Jewish political activist, said Elections Canada’s Stéphane Perrault did not properly consider their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“… This judicial review is granted as the overall decision of the CEO does not demonstrate the hallmarks of transparency, intelligibility and justification, as it is not possible to determine if he undertook the necessary proportionate balancing between the applicant’s charter rights and the exercise of his statutory duty,” says the Federal Court ruling.

The current election date coincides with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which begins Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 22. Aryeh-Bain argued that during the holiday, observant Orthodox Jews must refrain from a number of activities — including voting and campaigning — and cannot ask others to work for them.

According to the judgment, the Oct. 12 advance polling day conflicts with the Sabbath, while the Oct. 14 advance polling day coincides with the festival of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday.”Elections Canada will act in a timely manner in accordance with the directions provided by the Court. I will make public my final decision as soon as possible,” Perrault said in a statement Tuesday after the judge’s decision was released.

“Elections Canada remains committed to fostering meaningful opportunities for all Canadians to participate in the federal election.” Aryeh-Bain said that, aside from preventing her from participating on voting day itself, the current federal election date will negatively affect her campaign. Eglinton-Lawrence has about 5,000 Orthodox Jewish voters and in the last three federal elections it was decided by 2,000 to 4,000 votes.

The chief electoral officer does not choose the election date and cannot change it once it has been set — but can recommend to cabinet that the election date be moved.

Perrault wrote to Aryeh-Bain in May saying that he was made aware of the issue through the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as early as August 2018 and assured it that steps were being taken to ensure voter accessibility.

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