HIGH NOON ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL The Election Date and the Jewish Community – a case for Canadian exceptionalism?

While the issue of the conflict between the Jewish community and Elections Canada over Shemini Atzeret, the Jewish High Holiday that falls on election day, has been simmering since the Fall of 2018, mainly in the affected communities, this week it went viral, with reactions from a wide range of ethnic media, triggered bythe government agenciesresponse to the petition to change the date.

The issue also received widespread coverage in the mainstream media, with a range of reactions.

From a detached perspective, even Val Wilde in The Friendly Atheist (July 26, 2019) remarks that:

The appropriate time of year for elections was selected with certain assumptions in mind, including the assumption that candidates and voters would be celebrating according to a Christian calendar. (There’s a reason the election isn’t held during the Christmas season.)

You might argue that changing the date could lead to elections falling on someone else’s important holiday, so why bother? But the bigger issue here is that a fairly prominent religious holiday wasn’t even taken into consideration. In a society where accommodation for Christian religious holidays is built into the social calendar, the failure to accommodate others’ holidays is anything but neutral.

While the ethnic outlets also paid attention to the issuewith mostly neutral coverage, there is an underlying current of concern among communities with a stake in their own religious holidays and their participation in the Canadian political process. The expectation is rising as Elections Canada has till August 1 to issue a final decisionto defy the court order or not.

In the past week more than forty stories in the ethnic media covered the news, with contributions from Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Punjabi, Russian and Tamil, as well as the Jewish media.

As with mainstream media, the headline often betrays the nuance, based on the status of religion in each community, as well as their attitude toward the Jewish community in particular.

However, beyond the strength of religious conviction in each community, an old dilemma of multicultural societies surfaces again: the open acceptance of all religious practices inevitably leads to the support of ethnic exceptionalism in the context of civil society. This bringsback memories of the Sikh turban issue won by the community as well as the more recent and not so successful struggle against legislation in Quebec barring religious symbols.

Is there a line connecting Malala Yousafzai not being able to teach in Quebec with an election date that would inhibit Orthodox Jews from voting? In the current context of populist rhetoric and polarized positions, any decision on the matter is bound to feed into that dynamic.  

Here is what various ethnic outlets had to say:

Various reports in the Chinese media cover the claim that Perrault exercised his discretion “unreasonably,” because he failed to balance the Canada Elections Act with the religious freedoms outlined in the Charter of Rights (Van People (Daily) – Vancouver, 25/07/2019 ; Sinoquebec Chinese Newspaper (Weekly) – Montreal, 24/07/2019; Today Commercial News (Daily) Toronto, 25/07/2019).

One outlet remarked that:

Elections Canada does not have the power to make a decision on the date of the federal election and can only make a recommendation; the final decision is made by the ruling party in government (BCbay.com (Daily) – Vancouver, 24/07/2019).

Another article in the Chinese print media foreshadows what that decision might be:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Vancouver that it is important politics do not influence Elections Canada (Ming Pao Toronto (Daily7) – Toronto, 30/07/2019).

However, Le Jia Wang in the Vancouver website Van People makes the connection explicitly between the Jewish situation and the need for greater Chinese participation in the political discourse:

If the election takes place during the holiday, thousands of Jewish voters will be unable to participate in the election... This may be detrimental to voter turnout. There are about 1.7 million people of Chinese descent in Canada who have contributed a great deal to the community. However, Elections Canada has never been as proactive or passionate about the Chinese community. This is one of the reasons Chinese Canadians have such little influence in Canadianaffairs. If Chinese Canadians want to protect their interests, they should learn from the Jewish community and participate in theseconversations. Fairness has to be fought for; it is not something that is given out for free (Van People (Daily) – Vancouver, 26/07/2019).

Elections Canada’s response was to continue to be in contact with the affected Jewish community and look for other methods to help them vote. We wonder what the reaction will be, if any, to Stephane Perrault’s statement that, There are always Canadians who are unable to vote on election day(londonchinese.ca (Daily7) – London (Ontario), 30/07/2019; Dushi.ca (Daily) – Markham, 30/07/2019).

Other contrasts in coverage were evident, with the Italian media reporting satisfaction with the EC recommendation, and the Jewish, media, obviously not, and a Punjabi radio host relativizing the issue and stating that:

Jews are primarily in 36 of 338 federal ridings, most of them in urban areas. Election Canada is now looking for ways how these Jewish people can vote. Canada is a multicultural country and it will not be possible to accommodate every community’s religious needs (Red FM 88.9 Good Morning Toronto (Daily) – Brampton, 30/07/2019).

An acute observer should note that a motion originated byChani Aryeh-Bain, the Jewish Conservative candidate in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, now lies in the hands of a lapsed Catholic Liberal Prime Minister.

One might say that it is hardly relevant in modern Canada, but – stay tuned

(by Andres Machalski, with files from diversityvotes.ca ~ 1,000 words)

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