SCC reserves judgment in disputed elections results case
Published Tuesday, July 10, 2012 6:19AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 12, 2012 5:53AM EDT
Canada’s top court has reserved judgment in the case of Conservative MP Ted Opitz who is appealing a lower court’s decision to overturn the election results in his riding.
The delayed Supreme Court of Canada decision will determine whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper has to call a byelection in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre.
The SCC ruling will also will establish whether Opitz, a first-time Member of Parliament, can keep his job and carry on with the work he has done for the past year, CTV News Channel’s Mercedes Stephenson noted in an interview with News Channel on Tuesday.
Stephenson told CTV News Channel that the hearing was held in a packed courtroom, with people lined up outside to hear this historic case.
This was the very first time the Supreme Court has been asked to be an arbitrator in an election result and the ruling by the Supreme Court will have ripple effects right across the nation.
“It’s very likely that the result of this decision by the Supreme Court will influence courts across the country, elections across the country in terms of how easy or how difficult it is to challenge an elections result,” Stephenson said.
“It goes to the very heart of the democracy of this country—the kind of rules that govern elections,” she added.
Opitz won the riding by just 26 votes in last year's federal election, edging out Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
Wrzesnewskyj challenged the win in court, alleging there were electoral irregularities on election night.
Appearing in court on Tuesday, he said there was more on the line than the result of a single federal riding.
“It is our democracy that is at stake here. Most Canadians feel that something broke during the last election campaign. It was a breaking of our trust, our trust of free and fair elections,” Wrzesnewskyj told reporters.
“When you put it in that context, it is a small price to pay.”
The Ontario Superior Court agreed with Wrzesnewskyj earlier this year, with Justice Thomas Lederer throwing out 79 votes due to technical irregularities, and overturning the result.
Opitz appealed, and last week Elections Canada revealed that 44 of the votes rejected by Lederer were cast by people who were legitimate voters and were on the national voters list, though they may not have lived in the riding when they voted.
In most cases, paperwork was not filled out properly for voters who needed someone to vouch for their identity, or who were left off the voter list, Elections Canada found.
The new information has prompted Opitz and the Conservative party to argue that Lederer went too far when he declared the results invalid.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Opitz said that he believed it was clear "clerical errors" were made.
If the Supreme Court rejects Opitz' appeal and makes a decision in line with the earlier ruling, the Etobicoke Centre riding will likely begin preparing for a byelection.
If the court upholds his appeal, Opitz would likely keep the job he has held for the past year.
The situation is unique in Canada's electoral history. Since 1949, only five other election results have been nullified by the courts.
None of those five decisions were appealed. Instead byelections were called to determine the will of the people.
While Lederer stressed in his earlier decision that the irregularities were the result of simple clerical errors, not fraud, Wrzesnewskyj has since brought forward allegations of ballot-box stuffing and voter suppression.
None of those allegations have been proven in court.
The 2011 federal election, which brought the Conservatives to majority government status, was marred with allegations that so-called robocall campaigns intentionally sent voters to the wrong locations to cast ballots.
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