Earlier this week, a student at McGill University in Montreal tried to register to vote. The student—who remains anonymous—lives in Montreal 49 weeks of the year. And for no apparent reason, he was rejected—one of several McGill students that have been prevented from registering in the city where they live and study.
The student brought comprehensive records of his residency in Montreal, to no avail. He also recorded his entire visit to the voting office, and uploaded it early this week under the name AnonMcGill.
And he isn't alone. Two days before AnonMcGill's audio file was uploaded, CBC reported on two other McGill students originally from out of province who were also prevented from registering. One of them even claims he was told that if he hadn't told the registration office that he was a student, he might have been considered eligible to vote.
An upper-level law student at the university has also claimed that she was not only turned down at voter registration but also that she saw three other students be turned away in the half-hour she spent in the office:
Amid massive media hysteria around out-of-province voters, I went to the Quebec electoral offices this morning to change my address and riding. Arriving at the offices, everyone was friendly and kind. As soon as I sat down, I was asked to provide a Quebec driver's licence or health card. I have neither. I have Hydro-Quebec bills, T4s, letters from Revenue Quebec (I pay Quebec taxes) and a Montreal lease. I am currently trying to find an articling position in Montreal so that I can join the Quebec bar in 2016.
I was not asked to provide any of that evidence or asked if I intended to remain a Quebec resident. The woman interviewing me declared that as a student paying out-of-province tuition I was not domiciled in Quebec. The end. When I insisted that I had voted in the last election she retroactively declared that I was not eligible back then either and that I'm lucky I haven't been charged with voter fraud.
Although that last student was finally able to register after approaching an office manager, that doesn't seem to be the typical ending to this story. On Sunday, two Quebecois Party leaders election expressed concern about what it claims is an influx of new voters in the province before the April 7 election. Never mind that no such spike in registrations seems to even exist; the party is concerned about voters whose native language isn't French.
The Quebecois Party champions two main causes: the protection of traditional Quebecois culture (including French as the official language) and sovereignty for Quebec. Out-of-province students at the anglophone McGill University and similar schools might throw a teeny-tiny wrench in those plans.
So voting offices, it would appear, are taking full advantage of Quebec's vague voter-residency requirements. In Canada's other provinces, students from another area are typically able to register without much trouble, provided they spend most of the year in the province in which they are voting. Quebec, however, requires six months of "domicile," a term that officially means "the place of [the voter's] principal establishment." Since a domicile is technically different from plain old residency and is based on "intention rather than...actual dwelling," the law leaves a lot of room for interpretation. If the registration office so decides, it can require proof of the prospective voter's intention to remain in Quebec and be a Quebecer with all of his or her heart and soul forever and ever.
But since that's hard to prove, registration offices can use other means. Students with plenty of other documentation have still been asked to show a Quebec driver's license (which many poor, non-driving students don't have in any province) in order to vote or simply been turned away on the basis of paying out-of-province tuition.
Since attention has been drawn to anglophone students who have been turned away, the Quebecois Party has backed down some from earlier claims that the election would be "stolen by people from Ontario and the rest of Canada." However, it stands by the claim that there has been a spike in anglophone, out-of-province registrations. (A claim that, as I can't emphasize enough, is demonstrably false.)
The election is April 7, and time to register is running out.