June 7, 2019
TORONTO – A candidate in the upcoming federal election and another member of the Jewish community are asking the Federal Court to shift the election date to avoid discrimination against observant Canadian Jews.
In a notice of application filed on Thursday, Chani Aryeh-Bain and Ira Walfish argue that the Chief Electoral Officer’s refusal to move the election date from Oct. 21, a Jewish holiday, was unreasonable and that the Chief Electoral Officer did not provide adequate reasons for his decision.
Aryeh-Bain is the Conservative nominee for the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, while Walfish is a resident of York Centre.
The intersection of the Jewish calendar and the federal election schedule threatens to wreak havoc for observant Jews in 2019. The election falls on Shemini Atzeret, a holiday on which observant Jews cannot vote or campaign. Furthermore, three of the four advance polling days also fall on Jewish holidays or the Sabbath.
“There should have been no need for this litigation,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “The Chief Electoral Officer has the discretion to shift election day to avoid ‘a day of cultural or religious significance’ under Section 56.2(1) of the Elections Act, but he has inexplicably failed to take that entirely logical step.
“It is Elections Canada’s responsibility to ensure that we do not see a repeat of the debacle that marred the 2018 Quebec provincial election for the Jewish community.”
In 2007, the Ontario provincial election was changed from Oct. 10 to Oct. 4 to avoid coinciding with a Jewish holiday. In 2018, Quebec’s election authorities refused to do the same, causing voter turnout in D’Arcy-McGee, the most heavily Jewish riding, to plunge from 72 per cent to just 44 per cent.
B’nai Brith had attempted to convince the Chief Electoral Officer to accommodate Jewish voters before Thursday’s application was filed.
We have expressed our concerns to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer about this year’s federal election date coinciding with the holiday of Shmini Atzeret. Observant Jews should never feel disenfranchised. We are engaging with #ElectionsCanada to discover what options are available pic.twitter.com/hJ2x9R19XN— B'nai Brith Canada (@bnaibrithcanada) April 18, 2019
The organization is now considering intervening in the application to ensure that all Canadians can participate in the upcoming federal election on an equal basis.