When Ontario-born McGill student Kokulan Mahendiran went to vote at a Montreal voter registration station on Monday, he brought a manila folder full of proof that he has lived in the city since 2009: Bank statements, a Quebec driver’s licence, proof of membership in a local riding association, and even recommendation letters from Liberal MP Marc Garneau.
That would be more than enough to vote in any other Canadian jurisdiction, but Mr. Mahendiran was deemed to not be Québécois enough.
“The [revision officer] basically said it was a question of what she believes, because at one point she said ‘I don’t believe you’re domiciled,’” he said.
With less than two weeks until Quebec’s April 7 election, an increasing number of Montreal students born out of province have been turned away at polling stations for failing to prove their “intent” to stay permanently in Quebec.
Concordia University student Malory Beazley, 26, a Montreal resident since 2011, was turned away for failing to provide a Quebec driver’s license.
B.C.-born student Sean Beatty has lived in Montreal for six years and pays Quebec taxes, but appears to have had his eligibility scuttled when officials found out he was still using his B.C. health care card.
Using the name AnonMcGill, Mr. Beatty posted a secret recording of the exchange
“I have a doubt that you’re not a resident of Quebec; as soon as I have a doubt that you’re not a resident of Quebec, I cannot put you on the list,” an elections official can be heard telling the student in English. “You can give me [hydro] bills for the last 10 years, but it doesn’t prove to me that you’re a resident.”
In all other Canadian provincial and territorial elections, the only requirement to vote is Canadian citizenship and evidence that a voter has lived in the jurisdiction for between 40 days and 12 months.
Quebec’s Election Act subtly ups the ante by demanding that would-be voters be “domiciled” in the province.
“The simple fact of residing in a place does not establish domicile,” states an information page released by Elections Quebec. Instead, would-be voters must prove to elections staff their “intention” to keep Quebec as their permanent home.
On Monday, Mr. Mahendiran, 22, arrived at his Westmount-Saint-Louis polling place carrying his Quebec driver’s licence, Quebec bank statements and a raft of official mail sent to his Montreal address, including a letter from Governor-General David Johnston awarding him the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, as well as direct correspondence with his MNA and MP.
“Kokulan has made many noteworthy contributions to our community where he has shown his leadership, passion and reliability,” wrote Westmount-Ville Marie MP Marc Garneau in an April recommendation letter.
And, to establish his age and Canadian citizenship, Mr. Mahendiran brought along his birth certificate.
“She [the revision officer] pointed and said ‘all your documents are from Ontario, we can’t take that,’” said Mr. Mahendiran. “I had one document from Ontario.”
“And then at another point she said, ‘You have to renounce all your ties to Ontario to vote here’ … I answered that I was born in Ontario and can’t change that.”
He was ultimately sent away carrying a Quebec voter’s manual with the words “domicile” and “Canadian citizen” underlined sharply in pen — despite his birth certificate, the revision officer had apparently also doubted Mr. Mahendiran’s Canadian citizenship.
A second attempt on Tuesday fared no better. In an official rejection form, election officials wrote that Mr. Mahendiran was “missing documents to establish domicile,” citing his failure to provide a Quebec health card.
“I asked her ‘if I bring a Quebec health card tomorrow, would I be able to register?’ She said ‘I can’t guarantee that, because I don’t believe you’re domiciled.’”
In a Saturday statement intended to clear up any “misconception” over the domicile policy Quebec chief electoral officer Jacques Drouin wrote that “the domicile is … the place with which a person’s important actions or ‘states’ of civic life are associated.”
No set standards exist to determine domicile, but Mr. Drouin wrote that elections officials have “the power to inquire and obtain any information it considers relevant” to gauge eligibility.
This information might include a Quebec driver’s licence or a Quebec health card, but officials can also deny eligibility on factors as vague as a person’s “actions” or “behaviours.”