TORONTO -- Misleading claims about changes to election laws under Bill C-76, allowing ex-patriate Canadians to vote in the election regardless of how long they have been living abroad, are being shared online, fuelling what one expert describes as worrisome, xenophobic rhetoric.

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals changed our election laws last winter with Bill C-76,” reads the caption to a video shared Sept. 16 by Peter Guthrie, a Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly for Alberta’s Airdrie-Cochrane riding.

“This is an affront to our democracy.”

By Friday, the video, which suggests that the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau made changes to theelection law to “increase control over Canadian election results,” had been viewed over 26,000 times, garnering over 1,200 shares on Facebook.

Another article published by the Cultural Action Party of Canada, an organization that says it represents social conservative values, suggesting the election could be corrupted by “millions” of Canadians living abroad, has also been shared widely on social media.

Bill C-76, known as the Elections Modernization Act, was passed by the Liberal government in December 2018. It made wide-spanning adjustments to Canada's election laws, including new limits on campaign spending, changes for expat voter participation, and measures to prevent foreign interference.

Specifically, it extends the right to vote to ex-patriate Canadians, no matter how long they’ve lived outside the country.

The claims

In the video, Guthrie draws acomparison between the risk of foreign interference and the provision allowing Canadians living abroad to vote.

“So how does this prevent foreign interference when you allow millions of people to vote on our election without being a taxpayer, or proof of residence, or even having an interest in returning to Canada?” he asks.

Guthrie also expresses concerns about what constituency expats would vote in.

Both the video and the article shared by the Cultural Action Party of Canada suggest that “millions” of Canadians living abroad can vote in the election.

Analysis

Emmett Macfarlane, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, says the suggestion that the election could be corrupted by expat votes not only overstates the number of potential voters living abroad, it promotes dangerous xenophobic rhetoric.

“That type of attack is actually worrisome rhetoric because it’s trying to play on people’s fears that our election is going to be flooded with ‘foreign votes,’” Macfarlane told CTVNews.ca by phone from Waterloo, Ont. Friday.

“They may be expats, they may be Canadians living abroad, but they aren’t foreigners.”

Though millions of Canadians may live abroad, Macfarlane adds that those who take the time to register to vote from abroad would be a distinct minority.

“The amount of work it takes to request and receive ballots, and send them back, coupled with the level of attention that expats give to politics would lead us to believe that the overall voter turnout within that segment of voters would be low,” he said.

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for Elections Canada said approximately 30,000 Canadian expats are currently registered on the International Register of Electors, which allows them to vote by mail-in special ballot in federal elections, by-elections and referendums.

However, Elections Canada notes that number changes constantly with new registrations taking place daily.

To be on the International Register of Electors you must be a Canadian citizen and have lived in Canada at some point in your life. You also need to provide your passport, citizenship card, and birth certificate as proof of citizenship. You do not have to provide proof of address.

On your application, you must indicate your last address before leaving Canada, which determines the electoral district for which your vote will be counted.

Figures provided to CTVNews.ca on Friday show that more than 8,500 Canadians living in the U.S. have registered to vote, along with 2,097 in the U.K., 866 in Australia, and 865 in Hong Kong, for example.

“It seems to me very implausible that the expat vote would sway the election,” said Macfarlane.

CTVNews.ca contacted Guthrie regarding concerns about the language used in his video; however, his team declined to comment, noting “the video and statements made stand for themselves.”

What do changes to election laws mean to me?

Canadians who live outside of Canada can vote by mail from abroad and no longer need to prove they have been out of the country less than five years. They also no longer need to state their intention to return to Canada.

The practise of vouching has also been reinstated, which Guthrie raised as a concern in his video. That means that if you do not have ID, an elector registered to the same polling station can vouch for you, so long as you declare your identity and address in writing. The voucher must be able to prove their identity and address. A person can vouch for only one person (except in long-term care institutions).

Voter information cards can also once again be used as a proof of address, but you'll also need additional ID, whether a utility bill or student ID card, or a bank statement for example.

- With files from Rachel Aiello

Contact us

See a story or post circulating on social media that you think may be disinformation or in need of fact-checking?

Let us know by sharing with us the link to the post or the source of the information.

Email us by clicking here or visit our Newsbreaker page.

Please include your full name, city and province.