Earlier this week, I was disenfranchised in Quebec.
I arrived at the office at one of McGill University’s polling stations at 9:45 a.m. There were eight or so of us waiting to register to vote, most of us “out of province.” We commiserated over looming exams and anxiously wondered aloud if the documents we had brought would be enough to prove domicile. Leases, bills, letters of proof of enrolment, passports.
Around the voting registration waiting room were helpful posters that listed four documents you should have when trying to register. They included: a Quebec driver’s licence, a Quebec health insurance card, a Quebec income tax return and proof of a bank account with a Quebec institution.
The posters also stated that you could use other evidence to prove domicile. So we sat, waiting to see the voting committee, holding little folders full of our evidence.
The website of the Directeur General Des Elections Du Quebec states simply:
To vote, you must be entered on the list of electors and satisfy the following conditions on April 7, 2014:
• be 18 years old or more
• be a Canadian citizen
• be domiciled in Quebec for six months.
The problem is that placing the burden of proof of domicile on students allows committees to be biased in their decisions. Who gets to vote is now seemingly judged by an arbitrary standard. A legal challenge was launched this week and Friday, the Quebec Superior Court is expected to rule on this process.
One of those waiting to register was a law student at McGill. He had tried to register the week before and been turned away. Today, he had brought the Civil Code of Quebec handbook. He tried to prepare us for the questions we would get asked, assuring us that legally we do not need any of the four documents the posters helpfully mentioned in order to prove domicile. In fact, he said that Article 78 of the civil code stated that in the event of uncertainty of the domicile of an individual, they are assumed to be domiciled at their current residence. I checked the facts online, and it was there.
It did not help me. “Bonjour, ça va?” they greeted me when I walked in, despite being at an anglophone university campus (spoken language, it should be noted, has no legal bearing on determining domicile).
Two committee members took turns repeating themselves: If I didn’t have the documents listed above, I didn’t have a strong case. If I hadn’t filed my taxes here, I wasn’t “rooted” enough in Quebec. If I didn’t have a health card, I wasn’t really domiciled here.
I asked them if they were aware that as a full-time student, I am not able to claim Quebec residency. To gain residency status, I would have to live in the province for one year and have not been a full-time student for a period of 18 months. These rules exist to make it difficult to access Quebec’s lower tuition rates for out-of-province students. It also puts students like me, who chose not to interrupt their degrees, at a disadvantage for proving their domicile: I couldn’t have gotten a health card here even if I wanted to.
The board of revisors told me I should have made “a special request.”
The fact that I’ve lived here for five years, taken two-week Christmas holidays as my only breaks, and spent my summers working in Montreal, didn’t count. It didn’t matter that I have grown to love this province, consider myself at home when in my Montreal apartment, and worry about allowing the province to be plunged into the dark ages as a result of the Charter of Values proposal.
In any case, it only took them two minutes to make a decision behind closed doors: I would be denied voting privileges.
Every person who was waiting in line before me was denied the right to vote. Two of them were born in Montreal.
Students wished each other good luck when one went in, and condolences when they came out. We could have given up and just called it a day. But I guess the others in the room shared my feelings: If I was going to get disenfranchised, I would at least make them say it to my face.
Monika Viktorova is a student at McGill University and a member of The Globe and Mail’s Student Advisory Council. This article first appeared on disenfranchisedinquebec.tumblr.