Don't put chill on political interest

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They live abroad for varying reasons, but that doesn't stop Canadian expatriates from having a keen interest in the country's politics - and wanting to exercise their voting rights.

In what will come as a shock to a lot of people, some of those who have been out of the country for five years are barred from casting a ballot.

Two Canadians currently living in the United States have served a legal challenge to the federal government through the Ontario Supreme Court. The basis of their claim is that the five-year rule in the Canada Elections Act is arbitrary and unreasonable.

One of those people, Gillian Frank, 33, who works in Brooklyn, N.Y., is completing post-doctoral works in history. He said if he could find a suitable position he would return to Canada with his family.

Jaimie Duong, 28, living in Ithaca, N.Y., said he moved only to find work but retains close ties with his native country. He said he was shocked to find out during the last election that he was ineligible to vote because of the rule.

Although it wasn't enforced until 2007, the law was adopted in 1993 with proponents questioning the strength of ex-pats' ties to their homeland and how up to date they might be on Canadian issues.

As to the latter concern, the very fact that these people are passionate about their right to vote suggests they are keeping themselves informed on domestic politics.

But in general, at a time when fewer and fewer people are turning out at the polls, should we really be putting hurdles in the way of those who do maintain a keen interest?

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who backs this charter challenge, notes that Canadians living abroad pay about $6 billion in income tax. They're stakeholders.

In addition, Canada tries to attract immigrants with certain skills and credentials. People who have taken the initiative to travel as a means to broaden opportunities are those we would hope to welcome back one day.

Organizations: Ontario Supreme Court

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Brooklyn Ithaca, N.Y.

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