I guess I never really considered what it would feel like to be denied the right to vote.
With Canadian voter turnout so low these past few years, especially in the under-25 bracket, we’re used to worrying about the opposite problem: how to get people to care about exercising their democratic rights.
So it was kind of exciting to hear friends and acquaintances in Montreal, my home since September, talking about the April 7 provincial election as though it mattered.
The controversial Quebec Charter of Values is certainly a factor; many students are opposed to the banning of non-Christian symbols from the public sector. It was this issue that put the fire in my young-voter’s heart as I made my way to the Atwater metro station to register on Sunday, March 24.
I studied French at Dalhousie in conjunction with my journalism degree, and remember discussing French nationalism. Certainly France has a rich and valuable cultural history, from Gide to Cézanne, Sartre to Monet— I don’t think anyone could deny that. But racism has been bound up in French values for as long as there was something to cry “Vive la” about. Ghettoization and marginalization of immigrants has come to be expected in France, but not in Canada, which prides itself on valuing multiculturalism.
And the Parti Québécois is well aware of this, so is doing their darndest to suppress votes that are unlikely to be in their favour—namely those from Anglophones and students. My boyfriend Symon is both of these, and since we share a lease, we were invited to have our eligibility considered together.
The registration took place in a hoity-toity office above a mall, and as soon as we stepped out of the elevator, students were warning us not to bother—we won’t be voting in this election. Still, not to be deterred, we took a number and seated ourselves in the waiting area.
The three requirements for voter eligibility as outlined on the official government website are “be 18 years old or more; be a Canadian citizen; be domiciled in Québec for six months,” so I had packed my Canadian passport and our lease (which began August 1, 2013). I also had my driver’s license and my health care card on hand, both registered in Nova Scotia.
While waiting our turn, we noticed a young woman enter. She was immediately taken aside by one of the government representatives, an older Québécois man, who asked her whether she was a student.
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” she replied, to which he answered sternly, “It’s relevant because I say it’s relevant,” and proceeded to lecture her on the notion of “domiciled”, which ambiguous term has been the source of all this commotion.
Even if potential voters appear to have all the required documentation, they can still be denied if the representatives decide there isn’t sufficient proof of being “domiciled.”
A domicile is not the same as a residence; it’s possible to have several residences, but legally, you only have one domicile.
The Civic Code of Quebec states that “the domicile of a person … is at the place of his principal establishment,” and further that “change of domicile is effected by actual residence in another place coupled with the intention of the person to make it the seat of his principal establishment.”
Legally, I shouldn’t be required to show proof of Quebec health care or a Quebec driver’s license, so long as I’m capable of demonstrating that I’ve been living here.
When we did finally make it to the other side of the partition, where three representatives invited us to be seated on the opposite side of the table, we were quickly told that we didn’t qualify.
“Are you students?” they asked—I said ‘no’, but I don’t think they believed me. “Have you worked here?”
I have, as a cashier at a grocery store, but I didn’t bring a T4 because it isn’t required by law.
“A lease isn’t enough,” they said when I presented my papers. “Even if you bought a condo here, it wouldn’t necessarily be enough.”
“‘Domiciled’ is where your heart and soul is,” one representative told the group in the waiting area. I’d need a whole other article to tell you how much I love this city, which is certainly in my heart and soul forever.
I tried speaking French, but no one was listening. We were ushered out with a photocopy of the Election Act, which didn’t answer my question at all: Who are they to say I don’t belong here?
Charlotte Harrison was Editor-in-Chief of the Watch in 2011-2012.
She graduated from King’s in 2013 and currently lives in Montreal, where she is a freelance writer.