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Landed immigrants seek to cast city ballot

Published in the Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/497177

Asumani Serugendo, TEA Campaigner, endorses the I Vote Toronto Campaign

263,000 Toronto residents shut out from municipal elections

September 11, 2008



Like other Torontonians, Asumani Serugendo and his family pay taxes, take the TTC, attend school, visit their local library and rely on the city's many municipal services every day.

Unlike their neighbours who are Canadian citizens, the Rwandan immigrant family doesn't have a say in deciding who can best represent their interests at City Hall or local school board.

Serugendo, 45, a community worker, is among the 263,000 Toronto residents shut out from municipal elections every four years, an issue that the newly launched I Vote Toronto campaign is trying to address in the 2010 local election – by extending voting rights to landed immigrants who live in the city but are not yet citizens.

"It is not a leap of imagination, but a logical leap that the sooner the Canadians-in-waiting get to vote, the better it is for (them) and for our city," said Ratna Omidvar of the Maytree Foundation, a private charitable foundation dedicated to building a strong civic society, which is funding the campaign.

"It makes perfect sense to accelerate and collapse some of these artificial timeframes of citizenship," added Omidvar. "I never thought of citizenship as being a point in time when you get your passport. Citizenship starts with the city. Being a citizen of the city, what matters in the city matters to you."

The campaign was launched yesterday by the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, located in a community where 90 per cent of residents are foreign-born. The province will be lobbied to amend the Municipal Election Act to give all permanent residents of Toronto a vote in municipal elections.

It will reach out to community organizations across the city to build awareness and train grassroots members to bring the message to the larger community. Next year, they will lobby Queen's Park prior to the electors' list being finalized on Jan. 2, 2010.

The campaign has the blessing of Mayor David Miller and Councillor Janet Davis.

"Toronto receives 55,000 newcomers per year. We are a city of immigrants. Our success will depend on how successful our immigrants are," Davis said. "It is important not just to have economic success and prosperity, but social inclusion and political engagement. Those are the elements of a strong community."

Toronto would not be the first city to extend the municipal franchise to non-citizens as cities in the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Spain, Portugal and other European and Latin American countries have already done so. New Zealand goes as far as allowing all non-citizen residents to vote in both local and national elections after one year of residency.

"I am proud of living in this beautiful city where I continue to participate in all community issues like all my citizen friends," noted Serugendo. "But when it comes to choosing who will represent us, I can't vote because I'm not yet a citizen. This is just not fair."


Toronto Star-Landed Immigrants Seek to cast city ballot.PNG5.68 MB