Know your rights at the polling station, anti-hate group warns voters
TORONTO -- Elections officials, along with a group fighting online hate, are urging Canadians to go to the polls knowing their voting rights.
The presence of a man wearing a yellow vest who has been filming outside and through the windows of an Elections Canada office in Orillia, Ont. raises interesting questions about where the rights to free expression or assembly collide with the right to vote, and what constitutes intimidation during this federal election campaign.
The man, who posts extensive livestream videos to his Facebook page, says that he is the “real news” and acting as a journalist working on a story. He says he is evaluating the work of Elections Canada officials but that he was told he could not be inside the office, which is located in a shopping plaza.
So he moved to the sidewalk outside.
“It’s not loitering when you are filming your workers in their working capacity, right?” he says to the camera during a livestream from what appears to be his home Thursday afternoon.
“They can’t use that excuse. I’m not loitering. I’m there on official business. I’m filming my workers in their working capacity.”
An OPP officer confronted the man during a livestream Oct. 2, telling him that he would be investigated for mischief if he engaged with people going into the office or continued to film through the windows. Police were called by workers inside the Elections Canada office.
Voters can cast special ballots at all Elections Canada offices from the beginning of the campaign until 6 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Elections Canada rules prohibit any filming or picture-taking within a polling station and only voters and staff are allowed inside. While it’s not illegal to take pictures or video or stand outside a polling location, it is prohibited to do anything that can interfere with the privacy of the vote or to attempt to intimidate or influence voters.
Holly Ann Garnett, a political science professor at Royal Military College, says depending on how information is stored, filming through a window at an elections office could pose a privacy issue.
“And a camera could make some people feel watched or intimidated or make them wonder, ‘Can I vote the way I want to?’”
In response to questions from CTVNews.ca, an Elections Canada spokesperson says any electors with concerns about safety or security should contact the returning officer at the polling station or call police.
Voter identification has been raised as a concern during this election, with Elections Canada acknowledging that it has removed about 74,000 people from its voters register because they aren’t Canadian citizens.
At one point, the man in Orillia says that Elections Canada isn’t asking for ID from voters and “it’s our right to demand ID.”
Yellow Vests Canada Exposed, which says it is “exposing hate in the #YellowVestsCanada movement and elsewhere” in its Twitter profile, highlighted the man’s actions and reminded voters that they are not required to show ID to anyone outside or within a polling station that doesn’t work for Elections Canada.
“Our main concern is that people need to know their voting rights,” said Tony, a member of Yellow Vests Canada Exposed in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “If anyone confronts you for your ID outside a polling station, you don’t need to show anything, unless they are from Elections Canada or law enforcement. Demand ID from them and look for a badge.”
(CTV News is not naming members of Yellow Vests Canada Exposed out of concern for their safety.)
The yellow vest movement began with populist protests in France over rising taxes and fuel prices but has been co-opted in Canada by a range of anti-immigration and hate groups.
Deb Lindenas snapped a picture of the man in Orillia while walking into the Elections Canada office to cast her vote last week. She says she noted his behaviour seemed odd but she didn’t feel threatened by him. It was only when she looked at the picture on her phone at home and noticed his yellow vest, that she felt his presence was more concerning.
“I wasn’t going to go talk to him or engage with him, but I didn’t get a scary vibe as much as a weird vibe. There was nothing angry about him,” Lindenas told CTVNews.ca by phone.
Ron Walker, returning officer at the Orillia Elections Canada office, referred all questions about the situation to the organization’s media relations department.
Tony, at Yellow Vests Canada Exposed, says the man’s intent may be to intimidate but that his actions appear isolated. He says there has been some chatter on yellow vest social media groups about so-called “monitoring” of polling stations, but that others have noted that is illegal.
“I don’t know how serious any of it is, but my guess is not very,” said Tony. He notes the yellow vest movement seems to be on the decline across much of the country, though a polarizing federal election could change that.
Returning officers across the country are “trained and empowered to make decisions with regards to the safety and security of electors and staff,” said Natasha Gauthier, a spokesperson with Elections Canada. Training included simulations of various security scenarios and staff are taught to avoid escalating a situation and to evaluate whether activities break laws or pose immediate threats, whether they are isolated or coordinated, whether a candidate or a candidate’s representative is involved or whether those involved are known to police.
“Elections Canada is in close contact with its workers across the country throughout the election to share information and mitigate potential security concerns on the ground. When appropriate, security incidents and suspicious activities are reported to local authorities, and Elections Canada headquarters is informed,” said Gauthier.
“Canadians should be confident that they can exercise their right to vote in locations that are safe and secure.”
Advance polling takes place Oct. 11-14. Election Day is Oct. 21.
Who has the right to vote?
Anyone who is at least 18 years old on Election Day, is a Canadian citizen and can prove their identity and address is entitled to vote. That includes those serving prison sentences (by special ballot), those living abroad (by mail), students on campuses, those living in long-term care homes, and people who are homeless or of no fixed address.
What ID is acceptable?
Elections Canada accepts a long list of documents to prove ID. It is enough just to show a driver’s licence or other card issued by a Canadian government. Or, along with a voter information card, a voter can show a bank statement, utility bill, passport, credit or debit card, employee card or label on a prescription bottle. ID can be expired, but must be shown in its original form. Copies are not accepted. ID must be in English or French, or in Inuktitut in Nunavut. Click here for a list of acceptable ID.
Is there an alternative to proving identity?
Those unable to produce acceptable ID can either declare their identity and address in writing and have someone they know, who is assigned to the same polling station, vouch for them. A voucher must be able to prove their identity and address. A person can vouch for only one person (except in long-term care institutions).
Those who are homeless or of no fixed address can also obtain a letter of confirmation of residence from an administrator of a shelter or social service agency that can used to vote.
Can I take pictures or video inside a polling station?
It is prohibited to take video or photos inside the room where voting is taking place without the express written permission of the chief electoral officer (for example, permission may be granted to allow a pool camera to shoot a party leader casting their ballot on Election Day). It is illegal to film or photograph a completed ballot, even your own, in such a way as to compromise the secrecy of the vote. It's also a violation of the Elections Canada Act to publish a photo of a marked ballot in any way, including on social media.
Edited by CTVNews.ca producer Phil Hahn