Canadian Expat Voting Rights


When we think of democracy, we think of the right to vote. A new legal decision strips Canadians living abroad of that privilege.

Canadian Expat Voting Rights

In 1997, Canadian courts ruled that expats away for more than five years didn’t have the right to vote in domestic elections. Expats returning to Canada could have their 5-year clock restarted, even if they home for only a short period. But that practice ended in 2007. In May 2014, a court ruled in favor of expats restored their right to vote. That decision was short lived, as this week, Ontario’s Court of Appeal overturned that ruling.

Expat Reactions

How do Canadian expats feel about the news? Asia News Weekly host, Steve Miller, speaks with Jon Dunbar (South Korea), Marie Frennette (South Korea), and Kevin O’Shea (Japan) to get their reaction to the ruling.

How do you feel? 

Should expats be allowed to vote on issues not only in their home country’s elections?Are there any limitations you’d put in place?

Please let me know your thoughts in comments, on Facebook, or Twitter.

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I agree with the ruling. If you don't live in Canada, you shouldn't be able to impose your political will on those who do. Part of what makes this issue so messy is that the idea of 'citizenship' is actually a relatively new and ill-defined concept in the British and Commonwealth tradition. Until recently, voting rights of people throughout the Commonwealth were based on whether they were subjects of the Queen rather than citizens of a particular country. The idea was that because the Queen was the head of state throughout the Commonwealth, you (as a loyal subject) were able to vote for your local representative no matter whether you found yourself living in London, Upper Canada or Jamaica. (but equally, this meant you couldn't vote in two places in the empire at the same time).

Even today, Canadians, Australians, Barbadians etc who move to Britain are instantly eligible to vote in all British elections on the basis that they are Commonwealth citizens (But unfortunately for Brits, most former colonies like Canada and Australia (in 1984) have stopped this practice). I believe there are still voting privileges for Commonwealth citizens in some Carribean countries as well.

With regard to taxes, in the podcast is says that Canadians must keep paying taxes to Canada even when they are abroad, but this is not exactly true. Unlike Americans, Canadians have no continuing obligation to pay taxes or file yearly tax returns in Canada on income if it is earned outside of Canada and they are non-residents. Usually you become a non-resident after you have lived outside of Canada for at least 183 days out of the tax year. It's only America and Eritrea have a tax system based on citizenship rather than place of residence.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

Voting in national elections in many countries is now a sham as those elected represent corporate interests rather than their citizens. Research in the US showed that legislation usually follows the wishes of the wealthy and not the majority.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I think expats should be able to vote in federal elections, as the actions of the government directly affect those expats.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

What riding's candidates would expats even vote for? The longer the oerson is an expat, the more removed he/she is from their previous "home" address (assuming they even have one).

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

France actually has an interesting system where expats around the world are not only able to vote, but they now have their own member in the assemblée nationale. So, for example, the representative for the US and Canada constituency is a guy named Frederic Lefebvre.

Ironically, Canada has actually complained about being included as part of a French constituency since they think that it's a challenge to their national sovereignty. I can see Canada's point, but I think the French idea is a good one.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

M3M3M3, your first post is an excellent one. Couldn't have put it better, myself. About France's system, I think it was only enacted to make French ex-pats a sense of belonging or commitment to the old country. And I don't think it's ironic that Canada opposes the idea bases on national sovereignty; we have enough on our hands with Quebec, and France's action simply exacerbates the issues.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

M3M3M3, you need to declare non-resident with Canada Immigration if you plan to stay in another country longer than 183 days, otherwise, you still need to file income tax. Even if you declare non-resident, you still need to file that annually but it just that the end is 0 dollar that you have to pay back to the government. Also, as non-resident, you do not have the health benefit which is right as you do not pay any tax already. I worked outside Canada in another country for many years, that's how I know. Then, when you return and plan to stay and work in Canada, you also need to declare that with the immigration officers at the border and inform Revenue Canada. Re-apply the health benefit after 30-60 days - not quite remember the duration.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Even if you declare non-resident, you still need to file that annually but it just that the end is 0 dollar that you have to pay back to the government.

Hi Cliffy, sorry but this simply isn't the case. Non-residents (and residents for that matter) are never required to file a Canadian tax return if there is no tax owing*. You might want to read the information pamphlet below from the CRA in the link below on when you are required to file. If you are a non-resident and you don't have any income from Canadian sources from which tax is owing, there is no obligation to file a return. That said, there are some incentives to file, for example your overseas income could raise your RRSP contribution limit if you ever decide to return to Canada and having a non-resident certificate can reduce the amount of the source deductions you pay on Canadian income to the withholding tax rate. People should obviously get professional advice to look at thier individual circumstances. I hope I may have saved a bit of your time if you are living in Japan and needlessly filing a return every year.

*(They can send you a demand to file where they think you are cheating the revenue)

As a non-resident of Canada, you pay tax on income you receive from sources in Canada. ...

You must file a Canadian income tax return if you:

have to pay tax; or want to claim a refund.

For more information, see "Do you have to file a return?".

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Every year, I pay taxes on my Canadian property, plus withholding taxes on my investments there. Yet I am STILL ineligible to continue to contribute to my CPP pension, set up an RRSP, etc. I got the worst of both worlds.

But that's how Ottawa wants it. The laws increasingly stress residency over citizenship. It's a reaction to the foreign billionaires who purchased passports, made the obligatory investments, and then left. Once again, the privileged few spoil it for the many.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada's constitution) makes it clear: voting rights are based on citizenship, not residency. The federal government makes descisions and passes laws that affect my status overseas, and the relationss between Canada and my country of residence—besides that, they own my passport.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I went back to Canada for a few years, a long, long time ago and the tax office asked me for an arm and a leg. I was able to bargain them down to a couple of fingers with the help of an attorney but I was really careful when I left the country the second time around. I sold everything and even got rid of my credit cards just to make sure that I had no economic ties. My only credit rating is in Japan and I keep it as healthy as possible since I don't have a guarantor to help me with all the BS that needs to be dealt with when purchasing anything of value here like land, a house or cars.

I am all for voting rights for municipal elections in Japan when you are a permanent resident of the country and especially when you pay an enormous amount of taxes but I don't see myself asking for anything but a federal right to vote in Canada when I don't live there anymore. It is still my home country and I still have a Canadian passport though so I would love to contribute to the future of the country (but mostly, I'd like to get rid of the clown in office at the moment). Yes, CSIS, you read that right...

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This is a load of (insert expletive)! What's worse is that the government has put in place laws preventing children of expats born overseas from gaining Canadian citizenship (my scenario with my son who was born in Japan). Idiots.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This is a load of (insert expletive)! What's worse is that the government has put in place laws preventing children of expats born overseas from gaining Canadian citizenship (my scenario with my son who was born in Japan). Idiots.

Out of curiosity, which laws are these?

1 ( +1 / -0 )


April 2009 Amendment to the Citizenship Act limiting citizenship by descent to children of 2nd generation Canadians who were also born out of Canada. (Sorry, law, not laws).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hi Magnet, Yes it's quite discriminatory since it seems to apply to everyone rather than only those born after 2009. I assume you must have been born overseas to a Canadian parent?

For anyone who is interested, the new law says that if you were born inside Canada (or born overseas but became a naturalised citizen), then your child born overseas will continue to automatically become a Canadian citizen. But your child's children (your grandchildren) will not become Canadians if they are also born overseas. This also means that if you were born overseas and became a Canadian by virtue of your parent's Canadian citizenship, your child will not.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This also means that if you were born overseas and became a Canadian by virtue of your parent's Canadian citizenship, your child will not.

What if you had your child inside Canada? Would the child then be Canadian?

I also wonder what happens if the parent only has one citizenship - by not giving the child Canadian citizenship, the child may be stateless depending on where they are born.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What if you had your child inside Canada? Would the child then be Canadian?

Yes, as long as the child is born in Canada, it will be Canadian (and the childs own children will be Canadian if born overseas, the clock basically resets)

I also wonder what happens if the parent only has one citizenship - by not giving the child Canadian citizenship, the child may be stateless depending on where they are born.

That's a really good question. If two Canadian citizens who were themselves born overseas have a child born overseas in a country like Japan where citizenship is granted based on blood rather than birth, it appears that the child will be stateless according to the site below. Also Japan is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Statelessness, so it's unclear what exactly the Japanese government's obligations would be. I know Palestinians are considered stateless by Japan and are allowed to apply for citizenship (without any waiting period I believe). I guess something similar might be done in this case?

Under amendments to the Citizenship Act passed by Parliament in 2008, Ana’s child will be born stateless.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

M3M3M3, My wife actually went to Revenue Canada and some employee told her that's what needs to be done. he also showed her how to fill in the tax form.... It actually saves you a lot of trouble in the future as Revenue Canada is kind of like a licensed mafia (there had been cases that Revenue Canada ruin someone's life regardless how the judgement of the court) and they will do a lot of things to ruin your life if you disobey. After all, filling in with everything 0 only takes a minute. Of course, unless you have billions of dollars which you can hire a lawyer to deal with them (in that case, they will give you a discount on tax owing if you do own them money); otherwise, you are pretty much screwed when they decide to harass you.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hi Cliffy, thats fair enough. If you plan on returning to Canada someday and think you might come under suspicion, then filing a nil return might be the safest thing to do. I just don't want to disclose my overseas income to the government unless I absolutely have to. You might want to double check what that employee told your wife, but I'm not surprised that the taxman said to play it safe and just keep filing. Personally, I haven't let them know my address in Japan or even that I've moved overseas, let alone filed any tax returns for over 10 years. I haven't received any demands to file at my old address. I'd be more than happy if they assume that I'm missing and presumed dead.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

To suggest that you have no interest, or interests in your birth country, financial, family or otherwise unless for some reason you have chosen to give it up seems pretty ridiculous.

Some have suggested that paying Tax is the point, I'm not sure I agree, for example I pay plenty of Tax in Japan and I don't get a say here, are you suggesting that an expat Canadian shouldn't have a say in any political system?

Odd.. more likely just one party trying to bend the rules in their favour.. or anti immigration measures.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

bothered. The tiny number of Canadian expats makes this a non-issue.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

So, hey, JeffLee, why not move your investments elsewhere?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The tiny number of Canadian expats makes this a non-issue.

It actually seems to suggest that there are too many Canadian expats. Hong Kong is actually one of Canada's largest cities if you look at where Canadian citizens actually live. Logically, someone must have crunched the numbers and calculated that if every child born to a Canadian parent became a citizen, the entire planet will become Canadian by the year 2346... or something around there. I think it's not unreasonable to change the law, but it should only apply to parents and children who are both born after 2009.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


Would be interested it what ways RC went after you, without getting very specific of course.

I have been outta Cda now over 2 decades but have essentially nothing back home except an account with about $2000 & I think its been de-activated as I haven't done anything with it. I have wondered about investing some back home, property at times, but sounds like it would give RC ammo to skin you alive if you ever returned likely nailing your assets as new income & taxing the hell outta ya!

I will says its pretty disheartening the way many govts are now treating their expats, just regular folks, not those that are cheating & hiding $$ etc, at times I almost feel like a criminal for having the gall to live in another country!

2 ( +2 / -0 )


My biggest mistake was going back to Quebec where RQ went for my throat because I brought back a lot of funds with me, plus I still had financial ties to Canada at that time and had paid off existing loans while abroad (student loans and stuff). That made a mess of things.

I don't have an account anymore, no credit cards, no land... nothing that ties me to Canada, just in case. Things might have changed since then and they might be better in the rest of the country but RQ reminded me of blood sucking night creatures....

I don't know if I'll ever go back to Canada to tell you the truth. I've looked at other options and while my home is here in Japan, it doesn't mean that I'll be spending all my time here after retirement. There are really nice areas of the world that would really love my money, and would be much cheaper than going back to Canada, as well as being warmer.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


"So, hey, JeffLee, why not move your investments elsewhere?"

It's complicated. When I was about to do that, the post-George Bush stock market boom got underway, and my returns began surging. OK, higher taxes (24% on capital gains) and I'm prohibited from adding to my portfolio, but still raking it in, Same with my Vancouver. Its appraised value has tripled since I bought it. Trying doing that in Japan.

Once Canada tanks , I'll accelerate the repatriation process. Nope, I'm not loyal to Canada. I used to be, but not since Ottawa started to take a harder and harder line against people like me, cutting off my CPP contributions, etc, while doubling my tax burden to them (ie, "non-resident taxes").

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The CPC runs a well-oiled political machine. If they thought expats voting would be to their advantage there would have been no appeal of the decision to restore voting rights, so clearly they know from their research that expats voting would be to their disadvantage. That would be pretty obvious too even without research, as people who live outside the country are much less likely to be the kind of voters who they target as their "Base", and also expats are not exposed to their perception management media campaigns and so can't be so easily manipulated. Basic voter suppression techniques, with a few straw man arguments about "fairness" and "taxes" to rationalize things for the sheeple while they ignore the fact that denying citizens the vote is in violation of the Canadian constitution. But then being in violation of the constitution only makes the whole sham even more attractive to PMSH.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


Thx! Yeah its looking less & less like I would ever contemplate returning, pretty bad when your own country looks fleece its own when they return! I am all for fair but govts are going to be making our lives more & more miserable I think as time goes on, & they CAN take away our passports effectively standing people OUTSIDE their country & then likely becoming an ''illegal" where they have been living in our case Japan.

With the economy being more global I think countries need to be much more reasonable with us pee on's moving here & there once in a while!

Its not like we are like APPLE hiding billions in Ireland or something!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

M3M3M3, yes, I was born outside of Canada but one of my parents is Canadian, from whom I received Canadian citizenship by descent. Unfortunately, in my case, like my parents before me, I've chosen to live the expat life and my son was born in Japan, meaning he's not eligible for my beloved Canadian citizenship. I suppose it's okay though, since his mom is Japanese, he's now a Japanese citizen, though I would have liked to give him the option and opportunity to choose between the two for himself when he comes of age. Proud to be a Canuck, but not so proud of our government.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I just read Donald Sutherland's article on the GlobeandMail.

I haven't been in Canada for 20 years although I will always identify myself as being a Canadian. I understand both sides I guess. I am not a resident so why should my vote influence local politics. I get that...... BUT...I also have zero burden to the country but spend a lot of money when I do come home for visits and have investments in Canada of which I pay a lot in tax. Most expats are medium to high earners and usually carry some influence in their opinions. Remembering that I am a "zero" on the books I will tell you that there are many ten's if not hundreds of people who have vacationed, studied or are living in Canada because of my suggestion to do so. Lots of dollars being spent I'll tell you. Us expats often have a somewhat fictional elevated image of our homeland. There's truth in the adage "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". I rave about Canada........ Now, compare my contributions to what a low income or socially assisted resident brings to the books. Well....better not go there I guess. My biggest disappointment is the calories (bucks) that are being burnt on THIS topic. Expat votes are statistically insignificant...I guess every vote "counts" but really...come on...Donald (or many of us) has done more for Canada than a great many residents have done for Canada..!!

4 ( +4 / -0 )


Thanks for confirming that. It's a really unfortunate and unfair situation IMO. However, the other change that was effected by the 2009 law was to restore Canadian citizenship to people who lost it back in the 1940 and 50s. So it's not unfathomable that by the time your son becomes an adult, Canada might pass another revised law and restore citizenship to certain people. At the very least I think expat children born to expats overseas should be given the eligibility to live and work in Canada if not full automatic citizenship.


Very good post, you summed it up perfectly.

There's truth in the adage "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". I rave about Canada

So true! You tend to remember the good things and quickly forget the bad ones. For example, when you reminisce about Canada, do your memories take place in winter or summer? :)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Just a post just above are my comments..NOT Donald Sutherlands. Sorry.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

BP well out at 10:21!

I don't expect to be treated better when I go home but I also don't want to be treated like a possible criminal either, well put that many expats often do MORE for their home countries than residents!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@M3M3M3......Summer or winter..Good question. Being from Victoria where the seasons are less defined than other parts of Canada the answer is a little more tricky. Probably summer I guess as fall, winter and spring are all fairly wet and cold...haha..

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think as long as you have the passport you should be allowed to vote in the federal elections only, not provincial, municipal, or otherwise, of course. There are still, after all, some things that as Canadians you need to do or things the Federal government does that can affect you regardless of where you reside, so why should you not be allowed a say in that? That said, ever since the Cosulate in Osaka closed I've never voted in any Canadian election as that would have required me to go to Tokyo -- and no way I'm paying for a round trip just to go vote.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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