Young voters in Quebec say they are being turned away

In their words: Voters who say they cannot register provincially because of a strict interpretation of the ‘domicile’ rule

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Tim & Selena Middleton/Flickr

With election campaigns in full swing in Quebec, concerns are being raised about the voting pool, specifically over the number of anglophone registrations. On Sunday, the Parti Québécois presented a list of demands to Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer, which include daily reports on voter registration, in an effort to ensure that “it’s Quebecers who choose their government.” But in a province that is home to two major English-speaking universities – McGill and Concordia – young people are reporting that they are being turned away. Qualified electors include the following:

1. Every person who
(1) has attained 18 years of age,
(2) is a Canadian citizen,
(3) has been domiciled in Québec for six months,
(4) is not under curatorship, and
(5) is not deprived of election rights pursuant to this Act, the Referendum Act
(chapter C-64.1), the Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities
(chapter E-2.2) or the Act respecting school elections (chapter E-2.3).

The issue, they are told, is with the interpretation of “domiciled.” According to electoral law, a domicile is “a notion of law, a legal and intellectual attachment between a person and a place. … domicile is related to intention rather than to actual dwelling.” So it’s about proving to the board of revisors, a three-person group that assesses each registration, to figure it out according to these guidelines:

A lease, along with invoices from service providers such as Hydro-Québec, Vidéotron, Bell, and so on, certainly serve as proof of residence, but they are not, of themselves, sufficient to prove that the residence is in fact the person’s domicile. If the board of revisors is not certain that the address is the person’s domicile, it may ask for further proof. 

It may, for example, ask the person to provide additional proof in the form of: a health insurance card, driver’s licence or registration certificate from Québec; evidence of a bank account in Québec; documents issued by government, local or business authorities showing the address as the address of the person’s domicile; a Québec income tax return

The more proof that is provided, the clearer the person’s intention to establish domicile becomes. Some specific actions also provide more certain evidence of the person’s intention to establish domicile in Québec than the simple fact of signing a lease. Examples include the fact of paying income tax in Québec or obtaining a Québec driver’s licence.

We spoke to three young people – two students, one worker – living in Quebec about the circumstances of their failed efforts to register to vote. Interviews have been edited for length.

Student and freelance translator, 25
Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques electoral district

I went in this morning, and I was nervous about registering because I read the stories that were in the paper, and I live in the riding that was the focus of a lot of the attention. I didn’t think it’d be a problem because I voted from the same address in two federal elections – this is the first time I attempted to vote in a Quebec election. I brought my passport, I brought in six years’ worth of hydro bills at this address, same thing with my gas bills, as well as three years’ of mail and income taxes, which I pay here in Quebec, and a letter that granted acquittal from municipal court from a ticket I contested. I don’t drive so I don’t have a driver’s licence, and I don’t have a Quebec health care card–my coverage in Ontario has now lapsed, so I need to get one but I don’t have one yet, and without one, I could not prove I intend to have this as a primary residence, despite the fact I’ve lived here for eight years. A student who just moved here is not allowed to apply for a health care card because you’re not allowed to become a resident until you’ve lived here for a year without being a full-time student, so as an undergrad I wasn’t able to get one, I never thought about it again when I graduated, and I’ve been healthy since.

I was quite surprised. I conducted myself in French the entire time. I was quite shocked. I then looked at the civil code, and the civil code looks quite flexible. I’ve never heard of anything like this.

They reserved judgment on my file, but unless I hear news early tomorrow morning, I won’t have a second chance to register – I have no recourse. I found it strange that they asked what my previous address was, and I told them my two previous addresses were in Montreal, and that eight years ago, it was with my parents in Ontario, and they made a point of writing in all capital letters on my previous address, ‘EIGHT YEARS AGO, ONTARIO.’

Freelance writer, 23,
Westmount-St. Louis electoral district

We took a number, and got in line to wait.

While we were waiting, it was clear they were trying to identify who was a student–they were asking people as they came in. I was with my boyfriend Simon, and he’s a little more vocal about his displeasure about these things, and he asked someone to address the group, because there were a couple students here, and they wanted to know the basis of why they’d be denied a vote.

They sent someone over to address the group, and he said: “A domicile is where your heart and soul is. It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s being settled somewhere.” It didn’t really mean anything. So they took us through to the other side, and there were three people at this table, and one was a lawyer. They decided before I was sitting down that I wouldn’t be voting. They asked me proof of Quebec Medicare, I said I don’t have Quebec Medicare. They asked me for a driver’s licence, I said I don’t drive here, my licence is registered in Nova Scotia, but I have everything listed in the Quebec civil code as requirements for voting: being of age, proof of residency, a passport. They asked me if I worked in the province, and I said I had, and they asked for a T4 slip, and they said I didn’t bring it with me, because it wasn’t required, and you don’t have to have a job to vote. I asked if I was able to provide Medicare would I be eligible, and they said not necessarily. They said, ‘Even if you bought a condo in Montreal, we wouldn’t necessarily let you vote, it has to do with where you really belong.’

She asked me where I was from, and I said Nova Scotia, and she said, in the end, her reason for rejecting me was that she thought I was still eligible to vote in Nova Scotia and I couldn’t be eligible to vote in two places. I looked after and saw I wasn’t, because I’ve lived here for more than six months. They pushed us out. They did not specify what I needed – I’m sure I asked three times, at least. People have been turned away with Medicare, too. I’m sure it’s because I am English – but I’m bilingual. I’ll be here another year at least, probably more than that. And you only have to indicate your intent to stay, which they didn’t ask, but I do.

The province is broken. The corruption is huge, it feels impenetrable. No one is surprised by it – I was a bit surprised by it, because I would never imagine they could so easily get away with getting rid of the right to vote, but everyone’s saying, ‘That’s Quebec.’ It’s really sad.

Grad student at Concordia University, 24,
Westmount-St. Louis electoral district

So I went in last Wednesday, and I’ve lived here eight months now, so when I got the card, and it said six months, I saw I qualified. They were really polite, I got in line, they just said grab a number, no problem, just asked do you have the documents you need, and I said, ‘yup.’ The first thing he asked me was whether I was a student, and when I said yes, he said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to vote.’ In Quebec, there are a lot of issues with all kinds of things surrounding language, and when I went in, they asked if I preferred service in English or French. My rule is, if the question is offered,  I’ll choose English, because that’s my mother tongue, but if it’s not, I’m perfectly ready to speak in French as well. And as soon as I started speaking in English, he said, ‘oh, you must be a student.’ I said, ‘yes, I am.’ And he said, ‘you can’t vote here.’ I asked him to explain it, and he didn’t have an actual reason – he kept saying I wasn’t domiciled in Quebec, but was unable to explain what the definition of ‘domiciled’ was. I didn’t have a Medicare card, and he said, ‘well, sorry, you don’t have your Medicare card, you can’t prove your residency.’ Which doesn’t make sense, and I’ve since had a chacne to look over the civil code, and nowhere in it does it say I need a Medicare card to vote, that’s ridiculous. He said very specifically, without a Medicare card, I can’t prove I live in this province.

It matters to me what happens here. I haven’t lived  here very long, but I am planning to live here the next four or five years at least, so what party gets elected in the province matters to me. I’m originally from Ottawa, and I’ve voted for provincial elections in Ontario, and there was absolutely no issue whatsoever. And I’ve voted in Halifax in the federal election, and that was no problem. That was so different from the reception I received here. I wasn’t really anticipating a problem, so I couldn’t help but feel like, after the experience, if I had gone in wearing less student-like clothes and spoken in French then maybe these issues wouldn’t have been raised, and that’s a shocking thing to consider.

I had my passport to prove my identity, and to prove my residency, I had a bank statement in my name at this address, an insurance claim statement at this address, and a T4 statement sent to this address, and a lease. So I brought a bunch, and they wouldn’t even look at the stuff I brought because I didn’t have a Medicare card. Nothing I had was worth their time in proving I lived here.

It was very blatant profiling, in my opinion. It’s never a good feeling, to feel like someone looked at you and decided they knew your whole life. And there is a lot of stigma in Montreal against students from anglophone provinces. People who are Francophone and have lived here their whole lives, there’s a very ‘screw you McGill’ animosity that exists, and that’s unfortunate. There is a sense in Quebec that there’s a lot to protect, and I understand the feeling that somebody’s only here for a couple years and they go home to their family and never transfer their documents to their province…but I don’t fit that category, and there was this person insisting that I did.

When reached for comment, Stephanie Isabel–a spokeswoman for the Director General of Elections for Quebec– replied by email, referring to the civil code: “We cannot comment on a decision made by the board of revisors, they are independent et [and] we were not there to see everything that happened. Then [sic] notion of “domicile” is complex, but is very well explained in the document above. If the person you talked to, still think after reading all the document, that there may have been a mistake, she can go again on the “special board of revisors,” as written in the law. She did not respond to how long a special board of revisors typically take to hear and make a decision. Quebec is one of five provinces to require domicile residence; it has been this way since 1994. Voter registration ends Tuesday.