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First Nations groups line up against electoral reform bill

The Conservatives' electoral reform bill would add new barriers to First Nations participation in Canadian elections, MPs on a Commons committee were told Thursday.

By:Alex Boutilier

Staff Reporter

Toronto Star

OTTAWA—First Nations groups added their voices to criticism of the Conservatives’ electoral reform bill Thursday, telling parliamentarians that the changes to voter identification requirements would erect “new barriers” to First Nations participation in federal elections.

The changes around voter identification requirements in Bill C-23 could mean that a number of First Nations living on reserve could be left with few methods to vote in the next election, warned Assembly of First Nations acting CEO Peter Dinsdale.

Dinsdale said eliminating the use of Elections Canada voter information cards as an acceptable form of ID, in addition to disallowing one voter with ID to vouch for another, could end up disenfranchising First Nations voters.

“I see no evidence that there’s any fraud on reserve with the use of voter information cards or using vouching,” Dinsdale said in an interview.

“It’s something we think should continue. And by changing that, that would be a barrier that (the government) would put up.”

Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre has repeatedly pointed to the 39 pieces of identification allowed under Bill C-23. The government has argued that the practice of vouching, as well as the voter information cards, has lead to widespread “irregularities,” and potentially fraud, in recent elections.

It’s an interpretation disputed by almost every single expert who has testified before the House of Commons committee studying the bill, including the current and former chief electoral officers.

It also doesn’t take into account the barriers faced by First Nations — including students, elders and those that move multiple times in a year — in obtaining documents that prove where they live, argued Theresa Edwards, of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

During Thursday’s committee meeting, that point was challenged by Conservative MP Blake Richards. Richards said if First Nations voters were better informed about the new pieces of ID accepted at the polls, including a letter of attestation from local band councils, it would eliminate the perceived barrier.

“I respectfully submit that the fact that people aren’t aware of how difficult it is for many aboriginal people to obtain proper ID, and that it’s not so simplistically a matter of education . . . it shows the amount of privilege that’s in this room,” Edwards said, as Richards attempted to speak over her.

“That people have no comprehension of how difficult it could be for aboriginal people to obtain proper identification.”

The committee is scheduled to continue its study of Bill C-23 next week. Despite the widespread criticism facing the bill, the Conservatives hope to have it become law by June, in order for the changes to be in place for the next scheduled election in October 2015.  

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