Some Quebec students are more determined than ever to vote in the province’s Apr. 7 election after the Parti Québécois accused Ontarians and other Canadians of trying to steal the result, but many are still confused about who is allowed a ballot.
University students who came to study from outside the province have complained of being denied voter registration on the grounds that they don’t meet a complex and subjective definition of being “domiciled.” Last weekend, the PQ demanded an investigation into a supposed influx of registrations from non-native Quebeckers, then backtracked when the province’s election authority said no such influx existed.
But the claim has left an impression on would-be student voters who feel disenfranchised, and who argue they deserve to help choose a government that will shape education policies. Some call the “domicile” requirement vague and even undemocratic, while others feel excluded from the society they chose to be their main home for several years.
“My assumption is that the [PQ] has a very narrow definition of who they consider to be Québécois. I think I am not part of that definition,” said Tom Zheng, 21, a fourth-year political science student at McGill University, who hails from Vancouver and has yet to register to vote. “Whether it is politically motivated or not, it’s shameful.”
The confusion stems from the way elections officials test whether a student is “domiciled” in Quebec. Proving residency may not be enough, and a provincial revisor can ask to see “concrete gestures and behaviours” such as a driver’s license, health card or tax return, that prove the student intends to make Quebec their primary dwelling. But there is no fixed standard for what counts.
“It seems pretty unreasonable to me,” said Jennifer Yoon, 18, a first-year McGill student who was denied registration after failing to provide either a Quebec driver’s license or health card. “I believe I am domiciled. That’s how I feel.”
Ms. Yoon plans to try registering again, and her friends have advised her not to reveal she’s a student, which some suspect triggers greater scrutiny. For the first time, all campuses will host stations for both registration and voting on Mar. 28 and Apr. 1 to 3, a new measure that at once makes it easier for students to vote but also draws attention to their status.
In Quebec’s 2012 election, about 26 per cent of potential voters aged 18 to 24 cast ballots. Denis Dion, a spokesman for the province’s chief electoral officer, said it is between the applicant and the revisor to decide who meets the province’s eligibility rules. He concedes “it is not impossible” revisors could make the wrong decisions, but “we think that on the whole, they have the tools and they have the competence,” and noted the law hasn’t changed from previous elections when “we didn’t have this kind of commotion.”
Still, at Concordia University, where 12 per cent of students are Canadians from other provinces, several people have sought help after their registration was denied. Melissa Kate Wheeler, president of the Concordia Student Union, thinks some are victims of “political profiling” influenced by broader debates on issues such as the proposed charter of values.
“This is what happens when you create a culture of intolerance,” Ms. Wheeler said.
With a report from Davide Mastracci, Special to The Globe and Mail
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Tom Zheng was a science student; in fact, he is a fourth-year political science student