The Chair (Mr. Gary Goodyear (Cambridge, CPC)):
Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to begin our meeting this morning, so I will ask that cameras be turned off and that people take their seats as appropriate.
I want to remind members that the meeting this morning is being held in public and will be televised.
As most members have noticed, we have changed to a larger room. That was at the request of a number of individuals, so we are in this room. I hope that everybody who needs to be here has found this new room. I suspect they all have.
Ladies and gentlemen, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a), matters relating to the decisions of Elections Canada to allow veiled individuals to vote is the subject of today's meeting.
I would like to start the meeting by thanking Monsieur Mayrand and his team for appearing before the committee today on such short notice. We certainly appreciate that. We note that you have been doing that sort of thing for us for some time. We definitely appreciate that. We all appreciate that it has been a very busy week for Monsieur Mayrand, and we are pleased that you are able to accommodate us here today outside your busy schedule.
Committee members, I would also like to say that at our last meeting the decorum around the table was unacceptable. I will not entertain today personal attacks or rude comments by anyone. We are here for a very specific purpose, and I would request that we act accordingly.
By way of background and in an effort to ensure that the record is crystal clear on this point, I remind members present that on Monday, September 10, this committee, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, passed unanimously a motion to have Monsieur Mayrand and his team with us today in his role as Chief Electoral Officer with Elections Canada to respond to concerns expressed by all members of this committee regarding Monsieur Mayrand's recent decision on the issue of veiled voting, as it is an urgent matter, and also to respect the time our clerk and analysts will need to prepare certain documentation, certainly with respect to the pending Quebec by-elections.
Monsieur Mayrand, after your opening statement the committee members will take turns asking a number of questions, following the typical fashion of this committee. We will follow the usual format of rounds of questions.
At this time, you are scheduled before this committee for a one-hour period. In view of the rather short period of time that you are testifying before this committee, I would ask, Monsieur Mayrand, that you restrict any opening remarks that you might have to not more than five or six minutes.
As well, members, I would ask that you ensure that your questions are on the topic for which we have requested Monsieur Mayrand's attention, that being the issue of veiled voting.
I would also remind the members that Monsieur Mayrand will need to be afforded an opportunity to answer your questions and ask that you ensure that your questions are simply not repetitive or too lengthy in their introductions, so that in fact there is time for Monsieur Mayrand to properly answer the question.
Before we begin our first round of questioning, I also wish to take this opportunity to make it clear at the outset that I will not entertain questions that do not deal specifically with the item of veiled voting. I am providing all members with advance warning that I shall direct the witness not to answer any questions on any other topic. Our mandate for this witness is very clear and was very clearly understood when the motion compelling Monsieur Mayrand's attendance was unanimously passed by this committee.
As I look at my colleagues around the room, I trust that every member of this committee before us understands and is in agreement with these ground rules. Please understand that I take my responsibility as chair very seriously, and I adhere to our time restrictions as closely as possible. I fully intend to respect the edict of the current Speaker of the House, wherein Mr. Speaker Milliken, when commenting on the role of committee chairs and members, stated the following:
|| I am confident that committee Chairs continue to be mindful of their responsibilities to make fair and balanced rulings based on the democratic traditions of this honourable place. Members of committees must also strive to resolve procedural issues in a manner which ensures that the rules are followed and that committee deliberations are balanced and productive for those committees.
Having said all of that, I would welcome Monsieur Mayrand to commence with his opening statement.
Mr. Marc Mayrand (Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to meet with you this morning to deal with the question of voter identification and the matter of veiled women who vote.
As you know, since last June the Canada Elections Act offers three options to electors to identify themselves at the polls. These are set out in section 143 of the act.
First, electors can choose to produce one piece of government-issued identification showing three elements: photo, name, and residential address. Only certain pieces of identification issued by provincial or local authorities meet all those requirements, mainly the driver's license.
As I indicated earlier this week, for electors choosing this method the deputy returning officer must, of course, be able to compare their photo with their face. In that case, an elector whose face is covered must remove the covering.
For electors without a piece of government-issued photo identification showing their name and residential address, a second option is to produce two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. Both pieces must then contain the elector's name and one of them must also contain his or her residential address. The act does not require that these pieces of identification contain their photo. In this situation, therefore, the person's face is not compared with a photograph.
Nowadays, especially in urban areas, one cannot assume that election officers know the electors who present themselves at the polls. Visual identification is therefore not required.
Third, Parliament has provided that electors without any piece of identification may take an oath and be vouched for by another registered voter who has the required piece of identification. Here again there's no visual comparison required.
Thus, the act provides several ways of voting that do not require the visual identification of electors. The choice of method is up to the individual.
In this regard, allow me to cite the words of the minister who was responsible for the Canada Elections Act in his speech at the second reading of Bill C-31. The minister then said:
||The voter ID process in our bill was carefully crafted by the standing committee to provide a balance appropriate to our Canadian system and consistent with our values. The balance is struck between protecting the integrity of the process and ensuring that no one is disentitled to vote by reason of lack of identification.
This balance could not have been attained if all electors had been required to identify themselves with photo identification. The Act therefore provided for other means of identification that do not require visual recognition. The choice is up to the elector.
You will recall that when this matter was debated, mention was made of the implications of the new identification process for different population groups, whether young people, Aboriginals, seniors, seasonal workers or the homeless, all of whom are less likely to have photo identification.
Finally, apart from these three options, electors can also vote by mail. By definition, this special procedure precludes visual contact between electors and election staff. As I noted earlier this week, more than 80,000 electors voted by mail in the 2006 general election. I would point out that the federal voter identification regime has become the most restrictive regime in Canada. To my knowledge, no provincial legislation requires visual voter recognition.
Some people, recognizing that the Act does not oblige electors to uncover their faces to vote, have suggested that I exercise the power that is given to me during election periods to modify or adapt the Act. As I have indicated, this authority is exceptional and must be exercised with caution and circumspection, only for a temporary period of time and only when it is necessary by reason of mistakes, emergency or unusual or unforeseen circumstances. This authority is intended to facilitate the voting process, not to restrict electors' fundamental rights.
The Supreme Court has had the opportunity to consider the extent of the adaptation power of the Chief Electoral Officer in the 1993 Haig Decision, in the context of the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. As some may remember, there had been two referendum processes to vote on the Accord: one for all of Canada except Quebec, and one applicable to Quebec only, for which the Quebec referendum legislation applied. Mr. Haig had recently moved from Ontario to Quebec and could not vote in Quebec because he had not resided in that province for at least six months, as required by the statute. He was asking the federal Chief Electoral Officer to adapt the federal statute to allow him to vote in Ontario, as if he still lived there. This is what the Court said about the adaptation power:
|Though the Chief Electoral Officer is given a discretionary power to adapt the legislation, this power does not extend to authorize a fundamental departure from the scheme of the Referendum Act [...]. In exercising his discretion, he must remain within the parameters of the legislative scheme.
Similarly, in the current situation, the possibility for electors to vote without removing their face coverings is the clear and unambiguous consequence of the legislative scheme set out in section 143 of the Act.
This does not preclude the possibility to invoke my adaptation power if exceptional circumstances arose. However, at this time, I do not consider that there is a reason for me to exercise my authority to adapt the Act.
I also wish to remind you that last Monday, I asked election officials to invite anyone whose face is concealed to uncover it in a manner that is respectful of their beliefs. If they decline to do so, voters must take an oath as to their qualification as an elector in order to be eligible to vote. However, I have not amended the Act to require them to uncover their face. Again, the choice continues to be up to the individual.
At this time, I remain confident that next Monday's election will proceed in a smooth and orderly fashion in the three ridings of Outremont, Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot.
Mr. Marcel Proulx (Hull—Aylmer, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, Mr. Mayrand, Ms. Davidson, Mr. Molnar and Mr. Perrault.
For several days now, you have been a very popular person. I do believe that when you accepted this appointment, you never expected to make the headlines of every newspaper in Canada. Welcome to this new arena.
I have a few questions for you, sir. You said you had advised the parties as well as by-election organizing committees of the following during your press conference on Monday September 10:
|I also forwarded the documentation prepared for this meeting to the government and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to inform them about the conference call [...]
To which official on the government side did you forward this documentation?
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, CPC):
Thank you very much.
Good day, Mr. Mayrand. Thank you for attending.
There is a fundamental premise here that I think we need to establish. In my opinion—and please correct me if I'm wrong—you seem to be saying in many of your statements that have been quoted in recent weeks that you were only following the literal interpretation of the act, which of course in your opinion prevents you from forcing veiled women to remove their veils when approaching a voting station.
In order to establish some frame of reference here, do you not agree that the clear intent of this committee in unanimous fashion was that veils should be removed? In other words, the whole purpose of this committee's investigation, or of Bill C-31, was to ensure voter integrity, and that of course includes being able to clearly identify the face of a voter. Did you not understand that was the intent and spirit of the discussions held around this table?
Mr. Paul Dewar:
Thank you, Mr. Mayrand, for being here today and for your team. Some of them have been before this committee before. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
I want to start off with your comments about the extraordinary powers. Notwithstanding what your comments are, from my point of view it's a question of interpretation. I respectfully disagree with some of that interpretation, but it's good to have it out here.
I am pleased to see in the beginning of your comments that it's very clear that you're instructing that in the case of an elector whose face is covered, they must remove the covering. That's pretty explicit. Then we get into the machinations of scenarios in which someone could actually refuse to, and that's where the disagreement is. People agree that there should be unveiling; it's a question of what happens if they don't.
This also might be a question on the lack of due diligence on the part of this committee, I would submit as well, and on the part of the Senate as well, because I happen to know—We read in the papers last May an article in the National Post about a question around this, so it was known. It was out there. You expressed that; you communicated with the government on this. It's funny enough that just around this time it becomes an issue.
To put it in context, I just came back from Morocco. I was part of an international election observation team invited in by the Government of Morocco. Do you know what? They have veils, and they vote, and it's not a problem. It was very interesting for me, having gone through that experience. I have some literature here of women who are part of the electoral process there. There's consensus there. We made a recommendation of perhaps having more women in the polls. I'll share that with you, because I know through your report last year that Elections Canada did some good work on the issue of ethnocultural groups voting and to encourage—and I really want to underline that we're here to do that, to encourage people to vote, and I want to share that with my colleagues.
We opposed this bill, for the record. The NDP had problems because, as you know, birthdate information was going to be shared not only with all poll clerks, but with all political parties, if the bill went through the way it was amended. I'm concerned, Mr. Mayrand, that my colleagues were more concerned around this table about getting their hands on birthdate information than they were about the details of how this bill would play out—
Mr. Paul Dewar:
I want to underline that, because, Chair, I asked the Chief Electoral Officer, when we were looking at this bill, which I think was ill-conceived, how many cases of voter fraud we've had in the last number of elections. He didn't identify it as a problem.
In fact, I would submit there is more of a problem in the integrity of candidates who run for one party and switch to the other. That's the real concern I have, and I think Canadians have, when they wake up in the morning.
I want to clear the air on another issue on the bill. There has been some suggestion that this issue has somehow been tied to the issue of election financing. I want to know whether you can comment on that. Has there been any connection for you with that?
Hon. Karen Redman (Kitchener Centre, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome, Monsieur Mayrand and company.
I think it's very appropriate that we're having this conversation, and it's one of the reasons I supported the motion to ask you to come before us. I want to point out, for people who are watching this on television, that we have indeed had a change in the legislation. The change in the legislation, from my perspective as a member of this committee, was very much to make sure there was clarity in voting and fairness to all electors in being able to vote.
You've done a very succinct job of outlining the three ways in which any elector can identify themselves. One is the photo ID.
I would underscore that I don't think we anticipated this issue. But you've been very clear that you not only made this kind of intervention to the Senate committee when they listened to this, but indeed had contacted the clerk of this committee, as well as the Privy Council.
My first question—and I'd like to split my time with Mr. McGuinty, so I'll try to be quick: is it unusual to have no response from PCO, given that this correspondence was done at the beginning of August?
One of the reasons we're dealing with this issue right now is that, despite the fact that the procedure and House affairs committee was reconvened for an entirely different matter, the government members felt this was of such an urgent nature, because the by-elections were this coming Monday, that it had to be dealt with forthwith.
I've seen many representatives of PCO in the room while we've been having these committee meetings, so it certainly is a topic of interest to them now.
I'm wondering, is it unusual to have heard nothing from PCO when you gave this interpretation of the law?
Mr. David McGuinty:
Monsieur Mayrand, I'd just like to go the heart of the comments made recently by the Prime Minister in Sydney.
I'm going to quote him. He said that visual identification of voters is the purpose of this law. Then he said that it concerned him “because the role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws; it's to put into place the laws that Parliament has passed”. Those are two direct quotes.
It's interesting, because, to many Canadians, Mr. Harper came to town as the new prime minister promising to break up judges, boards, agencies, and commissions that didn't abide by the will of Parliament. Here we have a succinct brief that clearly indicates—not at all in line with Mr. Lukiwski's comments about this being a literal interpretation—that you have made an interpretation within the four corners of the statute under which you operate. And now we have a prime minister who is publicly chiding you—and, I would suggest, possibly even manufacturing a crisis—because he's not happy about the fact that you're not interpreting the law differently.
First he says that we shouldn't have boards, agencies, and commissions that are simply blue sky and flying by the seat of their pants, or making new laws against the wishes of Parliament. You come and tell us that you in fact are bound by the will of Parliament. You've been perfectly clear as an officer of Parliament here in this testimony.
How did you react when you heard the Prime Minister's comments? First of all, he doesn't understand the act. And, secondly, he's telling you that he doesn't agree with your own interpretation, because it doesn't suit his own purposes.
What are Canadians to make of this?
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
You warned the Liberal Senate that this problem might exist in the law. The Liberal Senate did absolutely nothing to change the law.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pierre Poilievre: I see there's some protest over there from the Liberals, who are now embarrassed by that fact.
Our interpretation has remained the same from the beginning. Our interpretation on the government side is that you have the power to force people to show their faces under the existing law. So your warnings do not have any importance to us, because we disagree with your interpretation.
You have said that you could prevent somebody from voting who wore a hockey mask, or any other form of face covering. So you have that power right now; you've conceded that you have that power. You've been instructed to use that power by a group of democratically elected members on this committee. Why don't you?
Mr. Michel Guimond:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Mayrand, in response to a question from Mr. Poilievre about your interpretation of subsection 17(1), you indicated that modifications should only be made under exceptional circumstances, and only to facilitate the voting process. Is that correct?
Mr. Marc Mayrand: Yes.
Mr. Michel Guimond: I have here a list of 17 cases in which this authority was exercised. On one occasion, section 64 of the act was adapted to “Remove the statutory requirement that the notice of grant of poll set out the addresses of the candidates and their official agents.”
In your opinion, does the act of removing the addresses of the candidates and their official agents from the notice of grant of poll constitute an exceptional circumstance, within the meaning of subsection 17(1)?
Colleagues, we'll begin the second part of our meeting. We are running 15 minutes behind, so I will just give advance warning that I will end this meeting at 12:15 so that we do in fact have a reasonable time to get through our work.
We have a number of witnesses before us today, and I certainly appreciate everyone coming on incredibly short notice. You have the compliments of the entire committee for being here.
I will restrict opening comments to one minute. You can include your name, the organization you represent, and anything else you want to say, up to one minute. You will see my hand go up, and that will be the one minute, and that will be your time. I don't want to be rude, but we have a lot to cover. So let's try to do that. Then the members will have an opportunity to ask you questions, through which you may finish anything you didn't get a chance to say.
Having said that, let's begin our meeting. If you could please start, we'll just go around and then we'll begin our questions.
Mrs. Alia Hogben (Executive Director, Canadian Council of Muslim Women):
My name is Alia Hogben. I'm the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
It is most unfortunate that the apparent confusion of the Chief Electoral Officer, Parliament, and this committee—including that concerning the recent 2007 bill regarding photo ID and other forms of identification—has been framed as a Muslim issue.
From what I understand, Monsieur Mayrand was being well-intentioned and thoughtful about veiled Muslim women. Sadly, this focus has exacerbated the anti-Muslim sentiment and has made this into another bad example of how Muslims are seeking accommodation, when in fact the confusion is the result of unclear directions and the act and its options.
This issue should be dealt with as a Canadian issue of encouraging voting, and as security versus human rights issues. The rationale for changes becomes understandable if these concerns are addressed for all Canadians.
Do not, please, make this an issue for Muslims only, as Muslim women are willing to show their faces. They accept the importance of voting.
Ms. Raheel Raza (Journalist and Author, As an Individual):
Good morning, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Raheel Raza. I am president of the Forum For Learning, an author, and a journalist.
As I came here today, I discovered that since September 2007, photo ID is mandatory at all airports, even for domestic flights. Right here, before entering this building, we had to show photo ID. So showing the face is a very important form of identification.
You've already heard that covering the face is not a religious mandate in Islam; it is purely cultural. If it is cultural, the question I want to ask is, how many cultures is Elections Canada going to accommodate? There are over fifty cultures living here in Canada. This is going to become a can of worms in the next ten years.
Secondly, by using the terms “Muslim women” and “the veil”, Elections Canada is inferring that women who wear the veil are modest and those who do not aren't. Therefore, I have an issue with using terms such as Muslim women and the veil.
They can decide who can and cannot vote. But if Elections Canada mandates that people with their faces covered can vote, then perhaps it's time to wake up and smell the coffee, and think about changing the legislation for the security of this country, because in a post-9/11 world, the most important thing we have to worry about is the security and public safety of all Canadians.
Mr. Salim Mansur (Professor of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual):
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
My name is Salim Mansur and I am from the University of Western Ontario. I represent no one but myself. I was invited late yesterday afternoon, and on very short notice I came here.
The thoughts and sentiments expressed by the speakers before me are pretty much my own. I very much share their views on this matter. I hope we will be able to discuss it on the open floor.
My concern is that the integrity of our electoral system, the heart of our democracy, be protected. I would say that any smidgen of doubt, real or imagined, created in the minds of the electorate that our system could be abused, or is open to abuse, is edging closer to a slippery slope.
Any exception made in this instance on whatever grounds to accommodate, as a display of tolerance or sensitivity to faith-based demands, would set a precedent for future demands, and drip by drip it would render our electoral system vulnerable to abuse.
We have minimal conditions to be met by voters, and those conditions are pretty clearly laid out.
Mr. Salah Basalamah (Member, Présence musulmane Montréal):
My name is Salah Basalamah and I am here on behalf of Présence musulmane
Generally speaking, we are not in favour of people wearing the niqab this custom is not rooted in any religious beliefs, but rather reflects a cultural tradition. However, like any democratic person who is respectful of others, we defend a woman's right to wear the niqab. In fact, Muslims who wear the niqab never refuse to comply with legal requirements, whether it be in a voting booth or at a border crossing point, because these are exceptional circumstances and by failing to comply with the law, then run the risk of being charged with an offence.
However, we would like the legislation to remain in effect for four reasons: firstly, because the range of identification measures reflects the State's determination to have the broadest possible cross-section of the population take part in the electoral process; secondly, because applying the provisions of the act enables thousands of individuals to vote by mail without having to identify themselves, and it would be unfortunate to lose that right; thirdly, no Muslim has asked for this special accommodation to be made; and fourthly, because calls for changes to the act are not being made for the right reasons. The psychosocial context in which the debate on reasonable accommodations is unfolding is overly focused on the issue of Muslim women and the wearing of a veil for an exception to be made in the case of the more radical niqab.
Mr. David Harris (Senior Fellow for National Security, Canadian Coalition for Democracies):
My name is David Harris. I'm senior fellow for national security.
On behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the committee.
People have covered a good many subjects in this important area. I'm going to confine myself to one very important one that I think is derivative of the rest.
A number of blithe statements have been made about how it might not be appropriate for people fully veiled to appear in polling stations, and so on. That is essentially the position of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies. However, these statements also go on to assume that it is appropriate in some way for females only to be qualified, as government officials, to screen those women wearing veils.
This would, in our view, enlist the government's machinery and its personnel in legitimizing, advancing, and enforcing a sharia-type gender apartheid sensibility and standard. It would be an assault on principles of gender equality, according to our Constitution. It would ban male electoral officials solely on the basis of their gender from performing lawful functions of voter identification, and the implications would proceed from there. Government, its machinery, and people would be required to, in some form, shape themselves to gender apartheid sharia standards.
Mr. Marcel Proulx:
I understand, Mr. Chair, that our first seven minutes will be shared with two of my colleagues, if we may.
Good day, ladies and gentlemen.
I have a question for you, Mr. Côté. I understand that you made certain recommendations. I also understand that passports, health insurance cards and drivers' licences all have photo identification.
Are the provisions of Quebec's Elections Act as broad as those of the Canada Elections Act? For example, if an individual arrives at a polling station without a passport, a health insurance card or a driver's licence, is there some way that this person could vote without photo ID?
Mr. Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.):
Thank you very much.
Thank you to all of our witnesses. You are all members of civil society and your presence here this morning is very important. The real goal here is to ensure the integrity of the electoral system.
My colleague mentioned health insurance card, passport and driver's licence photographs. Let me relate an amusing story. A year ago, I was on hand for the swearing in of some new Canadian citizens. One of the women in attendance was wearing a niqab. The judge, acting in a very professional manner, simply told her that he could not swear her in as a Canadian citizen because he could not see her face. He then gave her thirty seconds to decide whether or not to become a Canadian citizen. The woman turned to her husband, who nodded his head. She then proceeded to lift her veil.
I, along with all of the political parties represented here this morning, agree on the importance of the identification process.
Are there groups in the country—you talked about pressures coming from a minority—who are pressuring you for changes to be made? Who are these groups?
My riding is home to three mosques where members do not wear the niqab. It seems that there are only between 10 and 18 individuals who do so in the entire province of Quebec.
Are some groups lobbying for the current act not to be amended, or for having all prospective voters uncover their face at the polling station? Do you know of any such groups?
Mr. Scott Reid:
Obviously, what I was doing was trying to establish what percentage. Based on this, it would be a somewhat rough guess. It's certainly not, I gather, the majority of Muslim women at this point who would be using the veil.
The concern I have, and I think this is reflected by a number of the people on this committee, is not a fear that Muslim women are going to be using the veil as a way of voting fraudulently. It's that given the very lax parameters the Chief Electoral Officer has adopted with regard to the kinds of identification papers you have to present in order to vote, the additional ability to vote with your face covered would allow other individuals to take advantage of this to vote, effectively without showing their faces and in addition with fraudulent ID.
By way of making this point, I'm sitting here with the list of acceptable documents the Chief Electoral Officer put out for the coming by-elections in Quebec. I just look at the documents issued to members of my own family, which come to my address even though they don't live at my address. I only took ID that comes to female individuals associated with me.
You can use a credit card statement. Well, my mother and I share a credit card, and it comes to my address. She doesn't live with me.
You can use a utility bill, including residential phone, TV, public utilities, hydro, gas, or water. My landlady receives one bill at the house I have in Ottawa. I have a landlady for my house in the riding. She gets the local property tax assessment and another utility bill.
So we're up to about three or four bills now. In addition, you can use things such as transcripts from schools, colleges, or universities, and report cards. No date requirement has been attached to these things.
The Chief Electoral Officer has added that attestations from a number of different authorities—
Mr. Scott Reid:
Right; I'm about to do that, Mr. Chair.
Attestations—not given on prescribed forms, but simply an attestation from somebody that you are so-and-so and live at this address—count as a form of ID.
Given this very broad range of things, the concern that was expressed by, among others, Sheila Copps in a recent article was that this is opening the door to other individuals, who are not necessarily members of the Muslim faith but are simply people who assert, “I have a right to vote with my face covered”, to take advantage of the generally very broad rules on ID to vote fraudulently.
I wonder whether any members of the panel could comment on that.
Mr. Naresh Raghubeer (Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Democracies):
My name is Naresh Raghubeer. I'm executive director with the Canadian Coalition for Democracies.
Mr. Reid, in response to your question first about the number of women in Canada who wear the veil, I think as parliamentarians we cannot be setting precedents, when we make our laws, based on the current numbers. We have to look at demographics and the changing society we live in and establish laws that are to the benefit of all Canadians, especially considering the changing demographic trends.
On the second point you raised, about the requirement and number of IDs to vote, I think Quebec actually has the best system in Canada. In Quebec, you have to be registered to vote at least five or six days prior—I'm sure I can be corrected—and if you're not on the registration list as a registered voter, you are not eligible to vote on election day, no matter what ID you bring in.
You start by insisting that the registration list be accurate and consistent with all the voters, and then you ensure that the valid ID with photographs is available.
I think we certainly have too many options here, especially for last-minute voting, which may flout the law or the will of Parliament.
I'll leave it there. Thank you.
Mr. Paul Dewar:
Thank you, Chair.
I want to start off by thanking our guests for coming on what was extremely short notice. We have people coming from out of town, and I do appreciate your taking the time to come, and for providing what I think is a really interesting array of opinions. It's too bad we didn't have this consultation before. I just say that for all of us. I guess that's where I'd like to start.
I asked the previous witness, the Chief Electoral Officer, if there had been any consultations at all with the community. I also want to underline—and I'm glad it was already brought up—that this should not be about religion. That's the wrong path to go down. This should be about what's required when you vote. I simply brought up the example of Morocco because I just returned from there. It wasn't about religion. It so happens that veiled women show up, and they are required to unveil, but that applies right across the board. I saw it with my own eyes.
So my question is, to help us here as legislators—and maybe I'll start with Ms. Hogben—what do you think the law should be?
Mrs. Alia Hogben:
I seem to be repeating myself, I think, even this discussion again. There is no one Muslim community; there are Muslim communities. I think CAIR Canada has their own opinions, and they can express them. I don't think they are an illegitimate group.
You're hearing different opinions today, but I think certain fundamentals should be heard here. One is that we're not one monolithic community; you'll get different and diverse opinions. Secondly, I think I agree with you that it should not be on religious grounds. And thirdly, I'm really making the point over and over again that this discussion should not be focusing on Muslim women, veiled or unveiled.
And to answer your question, if the Elections Act itself has three options, then, as a committee of Parliament with the obligation, you have to look at whether you want those three options. If it means changing it so that people can't vote by mail, then that's your responsibility. But you have to look at it from the point of view of security, human rights, encouraging voting, all those things, not to do with us as Muslims, please.
Hon. Karen Redman:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the witnesses here today. You are incredibly articulate, and I would agree with Mr. Dewar; I wish we'd had these discussions in this committee last spring. This is a change in legislation in somewhat new territory.
I would suggest to you that Monsieur Mayrand was also very articulate and quite explicit in what he's willing to do. It seems to me that we have come down to a juncture where he is saying the legislation needs to be changed. And as much as some of my Conservative colleagues may wish that we indeed were Parliament, we are not Parliament; any motion or decision that is made by a committee only receives sanction by the House of Parliament, and to change legislation would also involve the Senate. So I would suggest to you that it is very naive to hold out any kind of hope that what happens at this committee is going to compel Monsieur Mayrand or indeed change legislation before the by-elections that are occurring this Monday.
That said, it seems to me that what we're down to is a difference between requesting anyone with a veil to expose their face, and what I'm hearing from the vast majority of you, if not unanimity, is that Muslim women are used to exposing their faces and therefore would, in all likelihood, comply. So it's a difference between requesting and compelling people to do that. I think we've more than established the fact that there are a variety of ways to vote and that, indeed, photo ID is somewhat new in the Canadian electoral system, which hence is probably why we're dealing with something that we should have anticipated but as a committee did not.
A comment has been made that the accommodation that Monsieur Mayrand is willing to do to employ more females in polling stations in order to add to the comfort of females who are going to comply with the request to be visually identified with their photo ID was in some way acquiescing to some of the darker natures of some of the cultural things that are often associated with the Muslim community. I thought that was a somewhat sympathetic, reasonable accommodation, and I would just like to hear from all of you, or any of you. I believe it was Mr. Harris who actually made that comment. I was somewhat taken aback by that. I would just ask for a reaction.
Colleagues, thank you very much for your patience.
I have consulted with our clerk and analysts. The motion is in order.
Mr. Poilievre can probably correct me, and we'll read the motion again, but it seems to me that we're asking the Chief Electoral Officer to use his adaptation special powers, under section 17 to be more specific, to require that women reveal their faces, that faces are exposed, and that electors are to show their faces at voting stations across the country.
I would remind members that section 17 of the act is within 30 days of an election. So since there are a limited number of elections across the country, I want to clarify that this would not have an effect on electoral processes beyond 30 days, in accordance with section 17.
Now, this is in order, so we will begin our debate.
On a point of order, Monsieur Proulx.
Mr. Marcel Proulx:
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, as we had discussed yesterday, this meeting was to adjourn at 12 noon. As you are well aware, some of us have commitments during the lunch break today.
My feeling is that this motion will need to be subject to debate, which will take more than 30 seconds. We're already six minutes late, so I think this should be pushed back to after lunch.
I also want to remind you, Mr. Chair, that we have a commitment from you and the other members of this committee that the afternoon schedule is to prepare the draft report for approximately half an hour, and then we are to switch to the original matter that was to be discussed. Maybe while we are having a break, we should consider pushing this to a new meeting of the committee, which could start tomorrow morning or this evening. For now, anyway, I suggest that we break now, because it's already 12:07.
I think that's reasonable. Although I don't want to influence any members, I think that's reasonable. We give the rest of the time today to the witnesses, and then come back at 1:15, when the motion will have been translated. That's reasonable.
Can I accept that, Mr. Poilievre and everybody else? That's very reasonable.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much, colleagues.
We do have some more time for the witnesses, so what we might want to do is start in the reverse order. We will have one minute of comment and we'll probably get through everybody.
Mr. Harris is first, please. Please listen, colleagues, and see if there's any more information we can gain.
Go ahead, Mr. Harris.