MPs face off over photo ID debate
“People in Nunavut don’t have good documentation.”
When residents of Nunavut and Nunavik next head to the polls to cast ballots in a federal election, they will have to produce photo identification.
That’s a change brought in by Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, which passed in the House of Commons on Feb. 6.
Only members of the NDP caucus voted against the bill.
If residents don’t have photo ID, they will still be able to vote if they swear an oath, and have another resident, with photo ID, vouch for them as well.
Dennis Bevington, MP for the Western Arctic, warned in a press release that the bill may discourage residents across Canada’s North, who often don’t possess photo ID, from voting.
“This bill is one that I feel really stands against the roots of our democracy,” Bevington said.
Nunavut’s voter turnout in recent federal elections has been lacklustre. The January 2006 election saw a turnout of 51.1 per cent.
That’s a big improvement over the 43.8 per cent recorded in 2004, but still less than the national turnout figure of 64.9 per cent.
But Nunavut’s MP, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, said in an interview last week that Bevington is missing the real issue: that northern residents need help acquiring photo ID, which are already required for routine matters such as boarding a flight in the South.
“People in Nunavut don’t have good documentation,” she said.
“I’m quite offended when he says, these are simple people who live simple lives,” she said. “That’s a bit of a generalization, and a bit of an insult.”
She also said she voted in favour of the bill because of the “bigger picture” the law intends to address: voter fraud in southern Canada.
She’s heard stories of batches of voter cards being taken from the mail boxes of apartment buildings, so that “anyone could pick them up and vote.”
And anyone whose card was taken could later be accused of voting twice, which Karetak-Lindell describes as “a real injustice.”
Of course, this isn’t a big problem in most of Nunavut’s communities, which are too small for people to easily assume someone else’s identity.
About 8,900 Nunavut residents already have photo identification, issued by the GN’s motor vehicles division, said Tom Bragard, manager of services and inspections with Iqaluit’s motor vehicles division.
That includes Nunavut IDs, developed after airline security tightened following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
That leaves about two-thirds of Nunavut’s population without GN-issued photo ID.
Karetak-Lindell’s office also regularly handles applications for another form of photo ID – passports. That application process can be complicated and time-consuming, especially for young residents who lack proper documentation, such as their birth certificate.
For example, adopted residents who lack their birth certificate need to track down their biological parents and have them swear an oath, Karetak-Lindell said.
“That’s a hardship,” she said.
Karetak-Lindell, who has been elected four times over the last eight and a half years, acknowledged that voter turnout in Nunavut is below par, by saying that “of course people are going to get tired of voting for me, eventually.”
“We’re completely voted out,” she added, listing the number of elections Nunavummiut are expected to participate in, on the federal, territorial and hamlet level, as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., regional Inuit organizations, and a slew of other organizations, such as hunter and trapper organizations and district education authorities.
She suggested Elections Canada could do more to ensure its voters list is up to date, and that perhaps they should be involved in ensuring residents have proper photo identification.
But in the end, residents will vote if they want to, and find an excuse if they don’t, Karetak-Lindell said.
“When you don’t want to do something, we’re always going to look for excuses,” she said.
“You can’t just be complaining about everything around you, and not actively participating,” she said. “Voting is not painful.”