As municipal vote looms, some Ontarians struggle to get to the polls on Diwali

When Ryan Singh, 36, was booking Diwali holidays away from work, he realized it fell on October 24, the same day as municipal elections in Ontario.

Experienced in managing political campaigns and being a Hindu himself, Singh wanted to raise the issue and hoped the government would change the date to accommodate Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains who observe Diwali, the festival of lights.

co-chair of the Canadian Indo-Caribbean AssociationSingh started the “Respect Diwali” campaign, which called on the Ontario government to change the date of the 2022 municipal election.

Gaining media attention over the past week, the petition it now has just over a thousand signatures but has not been explicitly addressed by members of the government.

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing spokeswoman Melissa Diakoumea said the canadian press the date of the election is determined by a law that establishes it for the fourth Monday of October, which suggests that those who cannot vote on election day use other available options, such as early voting, by proxy, by mail or by Internet.

Happy and appreciative of the media coverage, Singh is disappointed with the government’s response. “I don’t think we’re asking for anything unreasonable. We are asking for methods and means to encourage people to vote. [and] one of them is to make sure that the one million South Asians in Ontario not have a conflict on election day.”

The municipal election has been moved once due to a religious holiday conflict. in 2007, eight months before the date set for the elections, then-election director John Hollins informed the government that the date conflicted with the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret, which would not allow members of the Orthodox Jewish community to vote on Election Day. elections. The government moved the date to avoid conflict.

Canadian National Observer contacted the office of the current electoral director, Greg Essensa, and was told by Ontario Elections’ media relations department that the October 24 municipal election element “does not fall within the electoral director’s area of ​​jurisdiction,” and recommended us to “communicate with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding this matter.”

The government’s lack of response and interest in addressing this issue meant that Singh had to recalibrate, now trying to make the most of voting options. His goal now is to make sure people have fair and equal access to the vote.

The Canadian Indo-Caribbean Association started a “Respect Diwali” campaign, urging the Ontario government to change the date of the 2022 municipal election. After gaining media attention, the group has not heard directly from the Government officials.

“By asking people to vote during advanced polling, the government admits that there are barriers to voting on election day,” Singh said.

Priya Ramdehall, 21, a political science major at McMaster University, says that between school during the day and work at night, “what little time I get to spend with my family to celebrate Diwali will be spent celebrating with my family”. she said. “I grew up in a strict Hindu household and Diwali is always something we celebrate.”

After Ramdehall joined the “Respect Diwali” campaign, he learned of the election date change in 2007. “I realised…if it happened then to accommodate a religious holiday or celebration, then it should happen now. We are restricting people from celebrating their holidays.”

Regarding the 2007 elections, Singh hopes that in the future, the government can be proactive in acknowledging conflicts and finding solutions. “Not only did they avoid a Jewish holiday, but the new date also prevented the start of Eid, a Muslim holiday. They were aware that if they moved it, who else would be affected, which is the foresight that I hope the government has in the future.”

Since the government does not appear to be making any amendments, Singh said the Canadian Indo-Caribbean Association has pivoted to expand the dates and locations for early voting. “Now it’s about encouraging people to take advantage of the little time they have to go out, access the dates they have available in their municipalities and vote early,” he said.

While Ramdehall will try to vote in the advanced polls, he says the problem is that people who celebrate Diwali don’t have the same chance to vote on Election Day as any other Canadian who doesn’t celebrate Diwali.

Singh’s recommendation for the government to move forward is to make a list, regardless of religion, of major holidays and celebrations, so that if the election date conflicts, it can be changed.

Not wanting to walk away from this thought that the partnership achieved nothing, Singh said: “If the government proactively fixes this for the growing and diverse province we are trying to represent, it is a step in a positive direction, and we will win.” I don’t see this happening again.”

Ramdehall remembers dining, praying and lighting diyas, a lamp that represents the removal of darkness in life, at home with his family on Diwali. “I have always taken the time and effort to participate in Diwali with my family. It’s a good time to get everyone together. By having to go vote, I feel like I’m missing that moment to get my family together.”

— With archives from The Canadian Press

Leave a Comment