Securing voting rights for Canadians living abroad

Apr 2, 2019 2 MIN READ

The Pro Bono Cause

The Canadian Expat is Canada’s largest organization dedicated to Canadians living abroad, with approximately 10,000 members residing across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Australia and the United States. The mandate of the Canadian Expat includes:

  • a platform for engagement between Canadians living abroad
  • the promotion of Canadian cultural and economic development and Canadian companies abroad
  • a voice for Canadians living abroad through targeted advocacy

The Osler Pro Bono Connection

The Osler team of Colin Feasby, Managing Partner of the Calgary office, Sean Sutherland, Litigation associate, and Brynne Harding, Taxation associate, acted as litigation counsel to the Canadian Expat in Frank v. Canada (Attorney General), a constitutional challenge to Canada’s elections law that disenfranchised over 1 million Canadian citizens that had been living abroad for five years or more. Represented by Osler, the Canadian Expat intervened in the case to argue that the law was an unconstitutional limit on the right to vote under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada held the law to be unconstitutional. The majority found that Canada’s political community is defined by citizenship, not residency, and that Canadians who live abroad are just as Canadian as those who live in Canada. The decision makes the important statement that every citizen counts in Canada’s democracy. It also makes it clear that a compelling justification, supported by evidence, will be required to limit voting rights in the future.

How to Vote as a Canadian Living Abroad

In a video posted to The Canadian Expat’s YouTube channel, the organization thanks Osler and gives the firm a “huge shout out” for its counsel on the matter. The video offers step-by-step instructions for Canadian citizens living abroad on how to register to vote. Watch the video below:

Volunteer Reflections

“Osler was fortunate to play a small role in a very important case for over 1 million patriotic Canadians living abroad. Voting rights are among the most fundamental rights of citizenship. By depriving expatriate Canadians of the right to vote, the law created a type of second-class citizenship and caused expressive harms by communicating that expatriates are ‘less Canadian’ than resident citizens. There are millions of Canadians living abroad who care deeply about the future of their country. Now, they have the chance to have a say in Canada’s future.”

Sean Sutherland

Partner, Disputes, Calgary