Letting five McGill University students cast ballots in Monday’s provincial election is unlikely to sway the vote’s outcome, but depriving them of that right would cause them serious harm, a lawyer argued before a Quebec judge.
The students took their fight to vote to Quebec Superior Court on Thursday as their lawyer, Julius Grey, seeks an eleventh-hour injunction to get them on the voters’ list.
All five are English speakers from other provinces who say they were unfairly prevented from registering by Quebec elections officials.
The legal battle comes amid complaints that out-of-province students have faced undue obstacles getting on voters’ lists. The student unions of Montreal’s English-language universities say they have received dozens of complaints and qualified the situation as “voter suppression and intimidation.”
The five McGill students brought documents such as passports, leases, hydro bills and Quebec medicare-card applications to revisions offices but were turned down and told they didn’t meet residency requirements. The heart of the dispute comes down to the legal notion of “domicile,” which requires voters to have lived in Quebec for at least six months and also prove their intent to make the province their home.
One of the five students, Brendan Edge, is a Green Party candidate in a Montreal-area riding. As it stands, the 21-year-old has been accepted as an office-seeker but not a voter. The Superior Court judge hearing the case, Robert Mongeon, called Mr. Edge’s situation “a contradiction” that raised a “very serious problem.”
The judge said that if Mr. Edge was able to qualify as a candidate it should follow that he is an eligible voter, and his candidacy should have satisfied revisions officials. Mr. Edge says he brought his candidacy papers to get onto the voters’ list but officials refused to look at them. Mr. Edge, who is born in Ontario, says his family roots in Quebec go back to 1680.
The judge said he would try to rule on the students’ case by Friday afternoon. Although the deadline to get onto the voters’ list passed on Thursday, the judge suggested that a court ruling would have to be respected. The case could set a precedent as it would apply to more than the plaintiffs in the case, Justice Mongeon said.
Lawyers for the Quebec director of elections said in court that their voter-list revisions boards are quasi-judicial bodies and have discretionary power to make decisions based on evidence submitted to them.