Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Recent concerns about lists containing voters’ personal information, including names and addresses, have some Canadians asking how to participate in democracy while protecting their privacy.
The answer is somewhat disappointing. While participation in the electoral process is an enshrined principle of our democracy, privacy is not.
In Calgary, Alberta concerns that anti-Muslim vlogger and self-declared “mayor-elect” Kevin Johnston would be given a copy of the city’s voters list surfaced in the last few weeks, predicated on his recent (and repeated) threats against Alberta Health Services employees for enforcing health measures. Johnston has repeatedly said he would be willing to take up arms, “as a citizen,” one elected and arrest them, if Calgary Police failed to do so at his behest.
“That would be me acting as an officer of the law,” he said, adding an accusation that his targets are “guilty of culpable homicide.”
“I’ve issued a promise to the key brass and to the inspectors of Alberta Health Service. The day I take office as mayor of Calgary we’re going to be sending Calgary Police Services out to go and arrest them for the following charges: intimidation, criminal trespass, criminal harassment, extortion and terrorism,” Johnston said during a phone call with CBC’s Meghan Grant, which he recorded and posted to a streaming video site.
By Johnston’s telling, he will be too busy campaigning to use the voters’ information to his own ends and expects the police to handle the arrests.
“That’s exactly what I’ve told them all and AHS people who feel they have the right to trespass at people’s business and tell people they’re going to be shut down if they don’t pay absorbent fines. I made a promise, not a threat.”
There are penalties for misuse of the voters’ information list, but these would have to be linked directly to Johnston. Punishments include up to a year in prison or up to $100,000 in fines. Johnston already owes millions for civil litigation against him, leading many to think any punishment after the damage had been done would be too little, too late.
Elections Calgary draws its names for its voter list from the provincial registry and distributes it to each of the candidates. Under Alberta’s Local Authorities Election Act, the city council of a municipality directs the preparation of a list of electors who are entitled to vote in an election.
The City of Calgary told the Candian Anti Hate Network that council can, “if it so desires, direct the preparation of a list of electors who are entitled to vote in an election.”
Calgary city council announced it would not do so for this election. After Mayor Naheed Nenshi was advised that “elections can be administered without a list and one would not be created without direction,” he declined to have one issued.
“You believe that we can run the election, with advanced polls and everything, without this voters list?” he asked at that time.
“That is correct, your worship,” he was told by city staff.
The same issue was raised in February by the Toronto Star, when it was pointed out that Travis Patron, leader of the neo-Nazi Canadian Nationalist Party currently being held in custody after he was arrested for attempting to declare a local legion his “Ministry of National Faithism,” would receive the national version of the electors list.
To be clear, this is a list with the name and address of every registered voter in the country being delivered to a political party that openly advocates for the creation of a white ethnostate and only ran three candidates last year.
However, no mechanism currently exists that would allow Elections Canada to disqualify the party and when asked by the Star, Dominic LeBlanc, the minister responsible for Elections Canada, was unequivocal that the government is not seeking to change them.
“Accordingly, we have no plans to amend the (law) to require the chief electoral officer to deregister a party on the basis of its views,” his office reportedly said.
According to Elections Canada, this list is created using the National Register of Electors, or NROE. The NROE is a permanent, continually updated database of Canadians who are qualified to vote in federal elections and referendums. It contains the name, address, gender and date of birth of each elector, along with a unique identifier.
This registry is then shared with “all provincial and territorial electoral agencies and with some municipalities for election purposes only.”
“Elections Canada uses the information in the NROE to create lists of electors (commonly called “voter lists”) for federal elections and referendums,” Elections Canada told CAHN in a statement. “These lists show all the people who are registered to vote in a particular polling division (assigned area within a riding). Lists are based on information in the NROE. As mandated in the Canada Elections Act, we also provide voter lists … to candidates, MPs and parties, who may use the information only for specific, authorized purposes.”
Several Imperfect Options
Those with concerns about safety or privacy can choose to have their information removed from the list and therefore avoid distribution to candidates in many cases -- but not all. The process of being removed is simple, and voters can request to be removed by writing to Elections Canada.
They can also request to remain in the NROE, without having that information shared with provincial, territorial, or municipal governments.
“The information sharing with other election agencies is not mandated by law,” Elections Canada said.
These voters would be required to register at the polls or with the returning office. Their names will be added to a final voters list, but not to the NROE.
“There is no way to vote and not have one’s name appear on the voter lists at all,” Elections Canada said. “There is also no mechanism under the Act to request that your information on the voter lists not be shared with parties, candidates or MPs, as we are required to do this by law.”
There is however a provision in the Canada Elections Act for electors who want to vote but who do not want their address to be shared in the lists because of a “reasonable apprehension of bodily harm if their address were included.”
In these situations, once the returning officer is satisfied their riding is the voter’s place of residence, they can use the returning office as their address. Much of the other personal identifying information will appear on the final list, and be shared.
Remaining off the list will also mean registering at every election, and no longer being sent a voter registration card in the mail.
Under the current system, for individuals with substantial concern for their privacy, the only surefire solution is simple and undeniably problematic - don’t vote.
This is anathema to the core foundation of our democracy, and ultimately puts the bad faith parties and candidates ahead of the inalienable rights of the people.