Jewish group sues Canadian government over election on Jewish holiday
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Jewish group sues Canadian government over election on Jewish holiday

Holding vote on Sukkot ‘sends a message to the community that it does not count,’ says B’nai Brith

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)

Canada’s two main Jewish groups are at odds over a lawsuit on whether it’s acceptable to have a national election on a Jewish holiday.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – the official Canadian Jewish advocacy group — says there are enough alternative measures to accommodate Canada’s 75,000 Orthodox Jews who can’t cast their ballots on October 21, which is both Shemini Atzeret and election day.

But B’nai Brith Canada, which was granted intervener status in a lawsuit launched by Toronto Conservative Party candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain and voter Ira Walfish, said that because of the end-of-Sukkot holiday, Jews will have significantly fewer hours to vote at advance polls than other people. Of the four advance polling days, three are on other Jewish holidays or Shabbat.

“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.”

“There is only one issue,” the plaintiffs asserted in an application for judicial review quoted by the Canadian Jewish News. “Is the CEO’s [chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault] decision not to recommend that the election date be moved because of a conflict with Shemini Atzeret unreasonable?”

Jewish men wave the four species to mark the holiday of Sukkot during morning prayers at the Abuhav synagogue in the northern Israeli city of Safed, September 25, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

According to CJN, 140 Canadians, including rabbis and three lawmakers, have written to Perrault to express their reservations about the scheduled date for the election.

Aryeh-Bain’s 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.”

However, according to CIJA CEO Shimon Kofler Fogel, who is also Orthodox, Elections Canada has 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)

“Would it be ideal for the election to be held on a date other than a chag? Of course. But to suggest that Jewish Canadians will be barred from exercising their voting rights is simply wrong,” he said.

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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