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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Noncitizen Demands the Right to Vote

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Less than a week before a city election, a U.S.-born lawyer claims the section of the Vancouver City Charter that bars noncitizens from voting is unconstitutional.

Scott Bernstein claims in B.C. Supreme Court that he was called to the British Columbia Bar in August 2010 after graduating from the University of British Columbia Law School in May 2009.

Bernstein, a U.S. citizen born in Chicago, is married to a Canadian citizen. He received permanent residency status under a skilled worker designation and will be eligible to apply for citizenship in 2012.

He's a practicing lawyer with the nonprofit legal advocacy group the Pivot Legal Society, a job that "requires extensive interaction with the municipal government on issues of housing, homelessness, community development, by-law enforcement, health and drug policy and other legal issues," the complaint states.

While nonresident property owners can vote in municipal elections, Bernstein says that as a noncitizen he's prohibited from voting or running in elections even though he's lived in the city for more than 5 years.

"As a lawyer and social justice advocate, Bernstein is interested in becoming involved in local politics by voting in elections and possibly running for political office," the complaint states. "He wishes to express himself through the democratic process of voting for those representing his values and beliefs, but is prohibited from doing so because he is not a Canadian citizen."

Noncitizens account for 13 percent of the city's population and are "traditionally disadvantaged in Canadian society," according to the complaint.

Bernstein says childless nonresident property owners can vote in school board elections, while noncitizens with children in the school system cannot.

"In approximately 40 countries around the world, noncitizens have some voting rights," the complaint states. "Throughout Canada - a nation of immigrants - there is no jurisdiction that allows noncitizens the right to vote and have a say in who represents them at the local level."

Bernstein seeks a declaration that provisions in the Vancouver Charter barring noncitizens from voting in local elections are unconstitutional.

He is represented by Joseph Arvay with Arvay Findlay.

Vancouverites will go to the polls on Saturday, Nov. 19.

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