Administrative law – Elections – Right to vote – Documentation – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Judicial review application – Standard of review – Correctness
Coalition of Progressive Electors v. Vancouver (Deputy Chief Electoral Officer),  B.C.J. No. 2939, British Columbia Supreme Court, November 13, 2002, Powers, J.
This was an application for judicial review of a decision of the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer for the City of Vancouver, involving the interpretation of s. 30(2) of the Vancouver Charter, S.B.C. 1953, c. 55 and amendments thereto.
Section 30(2) provides that if a person is not pre-registered or on the voters list on Election Day, they may register immediately before voting by either producing at least two documents that provide evidence of the applicant’s identity and place of residence, at least one of which must contain the applicant’s signature, or producing at least two documents that provide evidence of the applicant’s identity, at least one of which must contain the applicant’s signature, and make a solemn declaration as to the applicant’s place of residence.
In response to an inquiry from the Petitioners as whether a notarized declaration would serve as an appropriate document to provide evidence of identity, as required by s. 30(2) of the Vancouver Charter, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer replied in the negative.
The Petitioners sought judicial review of that decision. They argued that this interpretation may prevent a number of people from voting who wish to vote but have not pre-registered because they cannot produce two documents in accordance with the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer’s interpretation of s. 30(2).
The Respondent argued that the interpretation of s. 30(2) if consistent with the balance sought by the Vancouver Charter between ensuring an orderly election process and regulating the registration of voters without restricting such registration.
Counsel agreed that, for the purposes of this case, the correct standard of review was that of correctness.
The court held that a liberal interpretation ought to be given to statutes that deal with exercising the right to vote. The decision of the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer was held to be wrong.
The court adopted the following statement from Van Horne v. Regional District of Nanaimo, unreported, Nanaimo Registry No. CC29/20 (B.C.S.C.), December 20, 1979:
Accordingly, where the statutory language is capable of construction giving effect to that right (right to vote) such construction is to be preferred to a narrow legalistic construction, the effect of which would be to deny citizens their right to the franchise.
The court held at para. 30:
The thrust of the legislation is that there are honest, well-trained and well-meaning election officials who are in place to exercise some judgment in the election process to make sure that it does proceed in an orderly fashion. Part of their discretion is determining whether the documents that are submitted to them provide evidence satisfactory to them with respect to identification and residence. Clearly, a person who wishes to vote and is not registered on registration day has to provide the application for in s. 28 or the information required by that form. They have to provide two documents but I am satisfied that one of those documents can be a solemn declaration.
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