Arising out of the disputed election results in
Etobicoke-Centre, this case required the Supreme Court of Canada to
determine whether the election results in that riding should be set
aside on the basis of the potential that votes were cast by
ineligible voters. The opinion of the majority, written by Justice
Rothstein, begins by saying, "A candidate who lost in a close
federal election attempts to set aside the result of that
election." This statement sets the tone for the following
judgment, which took a liberal approach to interpretation of the Canada Elections Act, relying on s.3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which
guarantees every Canadian citizen the right to vote for a Member of
Parliament, resulting in the rejection of Mr. Wrzesnewskyj's
While the Act contains numerous procedural safeguards, the
majority preferred to interpret these as means to ensure that
non-eligible persons do not vote, rather than enforce strict
compliance with them. Because the language of the Act makes clear
that it is at the court's discretion whether it will declare
the election null and void on the basis of voting irregularities,
there is space for the Court to exercise its discretion. Justices
Rothstein and Moldaver writing for the majority declined to alter
the outcome of the election on the basis of the irregularities that
were referred to. They saw the fundamental purpose of the statute
as being the enablement of voting, supporting this opinion with the
constitutional principle that every citizen is entitled to
The Chief Justice wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by two
puisne justices, which followed a different principle in its
interpretation of the Act. In her view, the Act's purpose is
primarily restrictive; it is designed to prevent unauthorized
voting from occurring. Such an approach led her to find that
non-compliance with procedural steps under the act that insure
eligibility for voting is sufficient to cast doubt on the result of
the election, and grounds for the court to exercise its discretion
to void the result.
This case demonstrates how the legislative purpose of a statute,
when it engages an issue covered in the Charter, can be informed by
those constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. This
approach might be seen to be contrary to the established modes of
statutory interpretation, and indeed the minority did not find this
argument convincing. The interpretation adopted by the majority
suggests that future invocation of the Charter to inform statutory
interpretation will be looked upon as persuasive where it is
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