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Supreme Court set to rule on voting rights for long-term expat Canadians

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  • TORONTO — Long-term Canadian expats are set to find out on Friday whether a now-repealed 25-year-old law barring them from voting in federal elections was constitutional.

    The pending decision by the Supreme Court of Canada should settle a legal battle begun in earnest during the former Conservative government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, and which gained prominence in the election that brought the Liberals under Justin Trudeau to office.

    Observers said they would be watching to see whether the country’s top court might justify limits on a constitutionally guaranteed right that potentially affects more than one-million Canadians who live abroad.

    “What makes this case so interesting is that the Constitution sets no limits on citizen’s voting rights, so does that mean legislatures get to impose one?” Toronto-based lawyer Andrew Bernstein said on Thursday. “Do the reasons why someone has moved make a difference? How strict will the court be when the government seeks to justify an infringement?”

    While the Constitution guarantees all Canadian citizens the right to vote, Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more lost that right under provisions of the Canada Elections Act enacted in 1993. However, it was only under Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the provisions more strictly, prompting the court battle.

    Two long-time expats living and working in the United States launched the charter challenge after they were denied the right to vote in the 2011 federal election.

    Essentially, Jamie Duong, of Ithaca, N.Y., and Gill Frank, 40, an academic living in Richmond, Va., argued nothing warranted the abridgment of their constitutional right to vote. They insisted they maintain deep ties to Canada, and taxes and other laws passed by Parliament could still affect them.

    In 2015, the campaigning Liberals promised a review and the Trudeau government, which faces an election campaign in October, introduced legislation in November 2016 to extend the franchise to all Canadians abroad. While that legislation never proceeded, the government did pass electoral reform legislation last month that did away with the five-year provision.

    The issue, Frank has said, is that voting rights should not be “subject to the political whims of Parliament.”

    The case, which garnered attention from civil liberties groups, initially went in favour of Duong and Frank when an Ontario Superior Court justice sided with them in 2014. However, the federal government appealed and in a split decision in 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the earlier ruling, paving the way for the current Supreme Court tussle.

    While the Appeal Court agreed the law infringed on the rights of citizens, the majority found the infringement was justified in a democracy because the rules preserve the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers.

    In arguments before the Supreme Court, the government noted almost all Canadians living abroad were barred from voting before the 1993 law changes. Ottawa also argued the five-year rule was a policy decision that aimed to maintain the fairness of the democratic system given that long-term non-residents have “different and less onerous responsibilities” under Canadian law.

    The expats responded by calling the five-year threshold an arbitrary marker that did not take into account their ongoing connection to Canada.

    In the 2015 election, celebrities such as Donald Sutherland, Canadian business groups abroad and other expats rallied against Harper and the expat voting ban.

    Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

    Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version did not mention that the law was repealed and replaced by the Liberals last month.


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    Funeral today for seven children killed in fast-moving Halifax fire

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  • HALIFAX — Mourners will descend upon a large Halifax hall today for the funeral of seven children who died in a fast-moving house fire.

    The service for the Barho children will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Cunard Centre on the city’s waterfront.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri says funeral proceedings will follow in the Islamic traditions, but is open to people of all faiths and members of the public.

    He says he hopes that by opening the ceremony up to all who wish to attend, the children’s mother — Syrian refugee Kawthar Barho — will see the widespread support and sympathy from the community.

    Yousri says the traditional portion of the service will be followed by words from community members, including Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, who is trying to help some of the mother’s overseas relatives come to Canada.

    Following the funeral service, there will be a burial at a Muslim cemetery in Hammonds Plains.

    “(Kawthar Barho) doesn’t have family over here in Canada. She does not have friends as well here in Halifax because she moved here five months ago,” said Yousri on Friday.

    “That’s why we are trying to invite her to come see the support and let everybody gather.”

    Shuttles will be organized to and from the Cunard Centre to accommodate those who wish to attend, and ample parking is available at the centre.

    The children’s father — Ebraheim Barho — remained in hospital Friday recovering from extensive burns. He was in critical, but stable condition.

    Early Tuesday, the Quartz Drive house fire killed all of the Barho children: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada on Nov. 9.

    The cause of the fire remains unclear.

    The scale of the tragedy for the young family who arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017 as refugees has struck a chord with Canadians.

    A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $523,846 by late Friday afternoon, with a $1-million goal.

    The Barho family lived in Elmsdale, a 30-minute drive north of Halifax, when they first arrived in Nova Scotia and were embraced by residents there.

    They had moved to the Halifax suburb of Spryfield to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services, and had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.

    The family was among 1,795 Syrian refugees who have come to Nova Scotia in recent years. The Trudeau government granted asylum to 40,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-16.

    A brutal civil war has raged across Syria since 2011, claiming more than 400,000 lives.

    The Canadian Press




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    Funeral today for seven children killed in fast-moving Halifax fire

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  • HALIFAX — Mourners will descend upon a large Halifax hall today for the funeral of seven children who died in a fast-moving house fire.

    The service for the Barho children will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Cunard Centre on the city’s waterfront.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri says funeral proceedings will follow in the Islamic traditions, but is open to people of all faiths and members of the public.

    He says he hopes that by opening the ceremony up to all who wish to attend, the children’s mother — Syrian refugee Kawthar Barho — will see the widespread support and sympathy from the community.

    Yousri says the traditional portion of the service will be followed by words from community members, including Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, who is trying to help some of the mother’s overseas relatives come to Canada.

    Following the funeral service, there will be a burial at a Muslim cemetery in Hammonds Plains.

    “(Kawthar Barho) doesn’t have family over here in Canada. She does not have friends as well here in Halifax because she moved here five months ago,” said Yousri on Friday.

    “That’s why we are trying to invite her to come see the support and let everybody gather.”

    Shuttles will be organized to and from the Cunard Centre to accommodate those who wish to attend, and ample parking is available at the centre.

    The children’s father — Ebraheim Barho — remained in hospital Friday recovering from extensive burns. He was in critical, but stable condition.

    Early Tuesday, the Quartz Drive house fire killed all of the Barho children: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada on Nov. 9.

    The cause of the fire remains unclear.

    The scale of the tragedy for the young family who arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017 as refugees has struck a chord with Canadians.

    A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $523,846 by late Friday afternoon, with a $1-million goal.

    The Barho family lived in Elmsdale, a 30-minute drive north of Halifax, when they first arrived in Nova Scotia and were embraced by residents there.

    They had moved to the Halifax suburb of Spryfield to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services, and had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.

    The family was among 1,795 Syrian refugees who have come to Nova Scotia in recent years. The Trudeau government granted asylum to 40,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-16.

    A brutal civil war has raged across Syria since 2011, claiming more than 400,000 lives.

    The Canadian Press




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