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Getting It Right on Election Dates: B’nai Brith in Dialogue with Elections Officials

September 24, 2020

B’nai Brith Canada

OTTAWA – B’nai Brith Canada is advocating for the democratic rights of Jewish voters when it comes to the date of Canada’s next election.

Elections Canada is consulting stakeholders such as B’nai Brith on dates for the next federal election, possibly to take place during the challenging time of COVID-19. In response to a detailed series of questions, we have renewed our arguments that the next election must take better account of the needs of observant Jewish voters, to avoid the unfortunate circumstances of 2019.

In 2019, the general election date fell in direct conflict with the holiday of Shemini Atzeret on the Jewish calendar. Additionally, some of the advance polling days conflicted with the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days. In different ways and to varying degrees, this affected the ability of observant Jewish electors and candidates to participate in the electoral process. B’nai Brith made its objections clear by intervening in a legal challenge to the fixed election date process. Ultimately, despite a victory in federal court, these efforts did not yield a change in date. We vowed at the time to ensure that this discriminatory situation not be allowed to repeat itself.

B’nai Brith Canada has made clear its views on the next election date:

(1) The issue for observant Jewish electors relates not just to election day but the impact on campaigning immediately preceding election day. Similarly, the impact on volunteers and candidates in the period prior to election day must be taken into account, and;

(2) A Canadian federal election must not be scheduled on a major Jewish holiday and advance polling days must equally not be scheduled on related days of observance, including the Sabbath, without alternative arrangements in place to compensate, such as additional advance polling days.

On the possibility raised of a two-day voting period over a Saturday-Sunday, B’nai Brith has expressed its firm opposition, stating that such a move would create additional barriers to observant Jewish electors who abide by restrictions related to the Sabbath (Saturdays, from sundown the Friday evening before). B’nai Brith would oppose any such proposal by Elections Canada.

In offering these views, B’nai Brith has endorsed additional outreach steps by Elections Canada in the manner put in place in 2019, such as:

  • Adding an extra advanced polling day, or polling days, that would be fully accessible for members of the observant Jewish community, should one or more advance polling days fall on a major Jewish holiday or the Sabbath;
  • Extending the hours for advance polling days in constituencies where the percentage of Jewish electors is significant;
  • Engaging with Jewish community organizations, nationally and locally, in an education and awareness campaign (as was done in 2019) to highlight the options available for Jewish electors in advance of election day itself, including options to vote by mail;
  • Establishing special voting kiosks on advance polling days in Jewish houses of worship or community centres, where Jewish population size warrants.

“We welcome this latest excercise in consultation from Elections Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “We all want to avoid what happened in 2019. We have again made clear our views that the election process must be more sensitive to the impact on members of the Jewish community.

“We trust the Chief Electoral Officer when he says he seeks ‘a firm foundation for raising this matter with the government and legislators and assisting them as they consider how best to address this issue on an enduring basis’.”

The text of Elections Canada public consultations document is found here.

The complete responses to specific questions submitted by B’nai Brith are found here.