Court orders Canada's elections chief to reconsider changing date of federal vote

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - A judge said on Tuesday that Canada’s chief electoral officer (CEO) must reconsider the Oct. 21 date for the federal election because it coincides with a Jewish holiday, according to a copy of the ruling.

FILE PHOTO: Stephane Perrault, then-nominee for Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, waits to testify on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

Stephane Perrault has only a week to appeal the Federal Court ruling in Toronto or change his recommendation for the date of the vote before an Aug. 1 deadline.

“Elections Canada will act in a timely manner in accordance with the directions provided by the Court,” Perrault said in a statement. “I will make public my final decision as soon as possible.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party face a tight race for re-election against Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.

In June, an Orthodox Jewish Conservative Party candidate and a Canadian Jewish activist filed a lawsuit arguing that the current date should be changed because it falls on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

On Shemini Atzeret, voting and campaigning are forbidden for Orthodox Jews, who number some 75,000 in Canada, the Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement. B’nai Brith was granted “intervener” status in the case. It called for the date to be moved to Oct. 28.

“We certainly hope the decision (the CEO) makes is the right decision ... to change the election date,” said Colin Feasby, a lawyer for B’nai Brith.

Instead of changing the date, Elections Canada had said it would seek to accommodate Jewish voters with a range of early voting opportunities and argued that moving it back by a week would cause significant logistical problems.

Judge Ann Marie McDonald urged Perrault to reconsider the date, saying there was not enough evidence showing the CEO had weighed everyone’s constitutional rights when deciding to keep the election on Oct. 21.

“Parliament has granted the CEO discretion to make a recommendation for a change to the election date up until August 1,” MacDonald wrote. “Although the August deadline is fast approaching, legal counsel for the CEO indicated that he is prepared to take whatever action is necessary as a result of the Court’s decision.”

The CEO has the power to recommend the election date, but it is up to the prime minister and his Cabinet to determine when Canadians will go to the polls.

Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Peter Cooney