By Joel Ceausu
“Our ridiculous laws are now being used to disenfranchise an entire community,” said school commissioner candidate Steve Mitchell running for re-election in Ward 4 of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.
Mitchell tried to help get some 200 Hasidic Jews from Boisbriand on the board’s voter list, but to no avail.
“Only six were accepted,” says Mitchell, who laments the fact on top of the already convoluted methods of the registration scheme, the revision period Oct. 4-14 came during the most holiday-laden period on the Jewish calendar, when most observant Jews refrain from work and other normal daily activities, essentially halving the window open to them.
“We have a motivated community interested in participating but because of the convoluted way we manage this list, they can’t. It’s obscene. People want to vote,” he told The Suburban.
SWL returning officer Linda Di Domenico told The Suburban that the reason most were rejected was simply because the forms were brought in during the revision period when a person or a relative must come in person to get their names onto the list.
She said some documents brought in by Mitchell were accepted because they complied with the revision period, but most others were not and missed important information such as dates and addresses. But that was not the main issue; rather it was the requirement to actually appear before a board to make the changes.
Some electors may find it odd that in a school board election the threshold for compliance is rigid, whereas in the last provincial election, officials in downtown Montreal allegedly used their discretion—along with hastily arranged interviews and aggressive questioning to disqualify dozens of students—all non-francophone—from out of province.
This is nothing like that says Di Domenico, and the decision to accept the forms in lieu of an appearance at a board is clearly not at the discretion of any returning officer, but outlined in provincial law.
“As an anglophone board we try to be flexible and accommodating, we want to have as many electors as possible,” adding that during the registration period, 570 requests were made to be placed on the board’s electoral list. “That’s quite a high number, so we feel that indicates an interest.”
“But this was an unfortunate situation,” she said, adding that attempts were made to reach some would-be electors, and that perhaps candidates need to be better informed about the details of the revision period. “We are writing to each of the individuals to explain why the forms were not accepted.”
For his part, Mitchell had worked to create an entente with the Tosher community—where Montreal’s renowned Yaldei development centre was conceived—which would help that community access services for special needs students.
It’s an important relationship, one that builds an important bridge between the public school board and what is an insular community by design. He says the board was exceptional in its response to creating the special needs agreement. “I tend to criticize a lot but in this case our board was extremely good, and welcoming.”
But he is less enamored of the election process that makes would-be electors in anglo boards jump through hoops to begin with.
“Wrong date? No date? In the end these are minor issues. For me it was extraordinarily disappointing; we complain about voter turnout, here is an entire community eager to vote and we responded with 200 ‘no’s.”
He understands the legal issue of dates, but insists “this should be reviewed and improved, there’s no question.” Di Domenico agrees, especially in light of how the revision period came during the very restrictive period for a religious minority.
“But laws are not easy to change,” she said, adding that “if they call us after Nov. 2 we will be happy to put them on the list for the next one.”
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