Mayrand's stance on veils is principled

Vote voilé - turbulences dans l'ordre démocratique

Voters across the country can be grateful that Canada's chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, has a firm grasp of the limits of his power.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains shamefully unclear on the fact that a civil servant, even a highly placed administrator such as Mayrand, cannot pass or amend laws. That is the exclusive jurisdiction of an elected parliament.
Yet there is Canada's prime minister, demanding that Mayrand rework legislation passed this spring that clarified how voters are to identify themselves at the polling booth. Nothing in the law, passed in June, explicitly required veiled women to show their faces before voting.

This should not have come as a surprise to MPs. Mayrand testified in May before a parliamentary hearing that like any voter, a veiled woman would have a number of ways of proving her identity.
These requirements include being vouched for by another voter from the same electoral district. A voter also can provide scrutineers with two authorized pieces of identification, one showing his or her name, and the other showing both the name and residential address. In the case of a single piece of identification, a veiled voter would have to show her face as confirmation of identity.
Had any of the political leaders who today are so upset at the idea of a veiled voter troubled themselves to pay attention to the debate as it was happening, they would have had time to intervene. They also knew from Quebec's experience in the March election what a hot-button issue veiled voters can be - even though there are only an estimated few hundred in Canada.
Quebec's director general of elections, Marcel Blanchet, memorably flip-flopped on his decision to allow veiled voters after he said he was threatened personally and after a few people threatened to show up at the polls in Halloween masks.
Although he has never conceded as much, Blanchet had other options. They included handling public mischief at the polls the way public mischief is handled in any other venue: Police come and take the offending party away.
But the real issue runs deeper. In a televised statement, in which unlike Blanchet he refused to cave in to political pressure, Mayrand spelled out that issue: "We all live in a democracy anchored in the rule of law, which guarantees certain rights and freedoms to all citizens."
Stubbornly, Harper continued to blame Mayrand yesterday, insisting that he is subverting the will of Parliament. This is nonsense.
As Mayrand explained, visual identification is not a requirement for voters who mail in their ballots, of whom there were 80,000 in the 2006 federal election. There was no outcry about their participation in the election. No one called for other voters to mail in their ballots instead of voting in person.
To his great moral credit and sense of professionalism, Mayrand is standing solidly against the unequal treatment under the electoral law of a specific group of voters: veiled women. Thank goodness someone is.

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