As U.S. expats struggle with the IRS’s punitively strict tax reporting requirements, Canadian expats are now grappling with harsh government measures of their own.
Ontario’s top court has ruled that Canadian expats who have lived abroad for five years should not be allowed to vote in federal elections because it would be unfair to those who still live in Canada.
“Permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives,” Justice George Strathy wrote for the majority decision. The split decision does recognize the infringement on the rights of Canadian expats to vote, but stated that the infringement on resident Canadians of allowing the expats to vote would have been greater.
The case stemmed from two Canadian citizens resident in the United States who claimed the five-year rule to retain voting rights was arbitrary and that they retained significant ties to Canada. The ruling overturned a earlier ruling from May 2014 that ruled in favor of Canadian expat voting rights.
In 1993, Canada enacted the rule taking away Canadian expat voting rights if they had been abroad for more than five years. In 2007, that rule was reinforced by a requirement for expats to not only visit but to resume residency in Canada to retain their voting rights.
Canadian expats now find themselves in a classic case of taxation without representation. While they are not subject to anything like U.S. expats, who retain their income tax obligation no matter where they reside and who deal with the excessive requirements of the IRS and FATCA, many Canadian expats retain tax obligations related to business and investment activities in Canada.
The ruling comes just months before Canada’s upcoming federal election, expected in October. The election is playing out to be the tightest in Canadian history, and recent polls indicate that the New Democratic Party is leading the way to form the first third-party federal government in Canadian history.
Despite the egregious disenfranchisement of Canadian expats, it is unlikely that this year’s expat turnout would have been significant or impactful. Voting turnout among Canadian expats is even lower than the dismal 59% overall turnout in the 2008 election. Voting records show that only 6,000, or 0.6% of Canada’s estimated 1 million expats, voted in the 2011 election.