Jack Emberly.

Along the Fraser: Exercising their right to vote

Everyone who votes in federal elections must show ID and proof of residence.

“When a person has no permanent residence, the person’s temporary quarters at registration time are considered to be the place where the person is ordinarily resident.”  – Elections Canada 2015.

Everyone who votes in federal elections must show ID and proof of residence. That was easier for the homeless in 2015.

According to Elections Canada rules, “temporary” residences include soup kitchens, hostels, and shelters. They may also include the greenbelt behind your house, a bush along Dewdney Trunk Road or Lougheed Highway, remote forests east of 232nd Street, and perhaps – from now on – city parks.

On Oct. 21, the courts ruled that Abbotsford’s policy of moving the homeless out of parks – temporary residence for many – is unconstitutional. Expect heated discussion at council meetings about that and the role of bylaw officers.

As the Ridge Meadows Community Relations Officer for the Homeless, I provided “information and assistance” to help this “target group” vote. At times, I’d be frustrated. Later, I’d discover problems I faced were noted by CROs in 2011.

A central aim of the CRO is to ensure the homeless had access to a Letter of Confirmation of Residence, a form they could use as voter ID. I made a list of agencies with homeless clients who could distribute them  – Rain City Shelter, Alouette Home Start Society, and the city’s outreach team working to transition homeless from Cliff Avenue.  I talked to administrators, and other likely service providers – nurses, addiction counselors, some at their work place, others at events during Homeless Week, Oct. 11-17 – an art show at the ACT, wellness fair at the Caring Place, food trucks set up for them.

Step 2 was to explain my role. Not one received information about the position, the Letter of Confirmation of Residence, or what was expected of them, even though a CRO survey in 2011 noted “engaging with stakeholders, getting them to obtain approvals from their organizations, and nurturing key relationships is a time-consuming process.”

The time allotted was too short, CROs observed. For community outreach to be effective,” they noted, “many activities need to be undertaken before an election is called.”

CROs called for “year-round education programs about elections in Canada.”

Time was something Elections Canada could have extended. CROs go into action when writs are dropped – 36 days before voting. This year, the election was called 78 days early. Yet, CROs weren’t mobilized until the 36-day mark. Why? In 2011, CROs said the shorter timeline prevents “engaging with stakeholders” – community outreach workers. The survey noted, “Getting them to obtain approvals from their organizations and nurturing key relationships is a time-consuming process.

Despite time restraints, some things worked well for me. Many homeless take advantage of dinners at the Caring Place and Golden Ears United Church. Staff at both places are known and trusted by their regular clients. They introduced me, and encouraged guests to sign letters and use them at voting day. Many did so.

Improving collaboration with stakeholders could benefit provinces and municipalities in their elections. CROs in 2011 recommended a review and follow up changes. Results shared with cities and provinces could improve collaboration within levels of government, and avoid misunderstandings by stakeholders.

At one shelter, one who assumed I was connected to the Green Party refused to have anything to do with the Letters of Confirmation. I was told to leave the premises. Nothing I said made a difference. That situation was finally fixed, but time was lost.

As a CRO, next time I’d enlist the help of some homeless I met. They know the target group best – especially the invisible half of the population no one wants, who camp in bushes and parks.

They also have a right to exercise their vote in an inclusive society.

 

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