Court orders review of Canadian election date that falls on Sukkot

Decision comes after Jewish candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain sues on religious freedom grounds

A Canadian flag flies in the wind  in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on July 25, 2016.  (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images/JTA)
A Canadian flag flies in the wind in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on July 25, 2016. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images/JTA)

A Canadian court has ruled that the country’s chief electoral officer must revisit his decision not to propose an alternate date for upcoming federal elections in response to a lawsuit by an Orthodox Jewish candidate claiming religious discrimination.

The country’s October 21 Federal election will take place during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which Toronto Conservative Party candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain claims will prevent her from campaigning and will depress the vote among her Jewish constituents. Orthodox Jews refrain from driving, using cellphones, writing and other activities during Sukkot.

Her attorney asserted that, as an Orthodox Jew, she “will have to shut down her campaign on election day. She won’t be able to get out the vote. She can’t compete on a level playing field.” Aryeh-Bain’s district of Eglinton-Lawrence has some 5,000 Orthodox voters.

“The record does not indicate how or if the [CEO Stéphane Perrault] ‘balanced’ [other] considerations against the Charter values of Orthodox Jewish voters and candidates to ensure their rights to ‘meaningful participation’ are respected,” the court stated in its ruling, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “The CEO’s efforts were focused on advance polling and special ballot options. No consideration appears to have been given to recommending a date change.”

The CEO does not have the authority to shift the date after it is set, but he can recommend such a change to the cabinet.

Aryeh-Bain’s lawsuit has split organized Canadian Jewry. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – the official Canadian Jewish advocacy group — has said that there are enough alternative measures to accommodate Canada’s 75,000 Orthodox Jews who can’t cast their ballots on October 21. According to CIJA CEO Shimon Kofler Fogel, who is also Orthodox, Elections Canada had done its best to “provide alternative arrangements” for Orthodox Jews.

CIJA CEO Shimon Kofler Fogel, who is Orthodox, believes that Elections Canada has done its best to “provide alternative arrangements” for Orthodox Jews and does not back B’nai B’rith Canada’s lawsuit to have the election moved. (photo credit: courtesy)

B’nai Brith Canada, which was granted intervener status in the case, disagreed. “At its heart, this is a case of what it means to count in Canadian society,” said Colin Feasby of B’nai Brith. “Holding the federal election on a date where a religious minority cannot vote by reason of their beliefs sends a message to the community that it does not count.”

Following the court’s decision, Perrault issued a statement promising that “Elections Canada will act in a timely manner in accordance with the directions provided by the Court” and will issue its “final decision as soon as possible.”

Since 2007, Canadian law has mandated that national elections be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following the previous election.

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