You don’t have to be a Canadian citizen to belong to a political party – or to vote for a candidate running for a party nomination.
But 288 people who have joined a human rights complaint against the federal NDP say they were denied that right during the party’s nomination meeting in Parkdale-High Park back in June.
The complaint alleges that “party officials did not provide… any explanation as to why excluded Canadians were prohibited from voting.”
The complaint alleges that “this procedure amounted to a voting embargo imposed on one ethnic group. It is submitted that the exclusion from the voting list and the accompanying voting embargo imposed on one ethnic group sits in contravention to the legislative requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
The Ontario NDP and the Parkdale-High Park riding association have also been named in the complaint alleging discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic origin and place of birth.
There were three candidates seeking the federal NDP nomination in Parkdale-High Park at the Lithuanian House in west Toronto. They included human rights lawyer and former mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi, FoodShare executive director Paul Taylor and political commentator and columnist Tom Parkin.
This group of mostly African immigrants there to back Gebresellassi were excited to participate in the political process for the first time. But when they arrived to cast their votes, they were told that they were not on the list of registrants and directed to a second lineup to verify their membership.
Some 390 members had been signed up by Gebresellassi. Forms had been submitted to the Ontario NDP headquarters and fees were collected ahead of the May 23 deadline.
Melissa Bruno, national director of the NDP, was responsible for overseeing the membership and voting lists for Parkdale-High Park. Despite taking measures to ensure their names appeared on these lists, community members never made the cut.
On June 18, five days before the vote, Bruno wrote in an email to Gebresellassi that only those who party staffers were able to get in touch and communicate with via phone had been added to the official voting list. Some people were unable to have their memberships confirmed in this manner due to a language barrier.
Bruno, however, assured that representatives would be onsite to assist “possible” members in receiving their ballots once they provided proper identification. In total, Gebresellassi says that 365 people were excluded from the final voting list.
Taylor was elected the Parkdale-High Park federal NDP candidate, winning with 255 votes. Parkin came in second with 124 votes and Gebresellassi was a distant third with 85 votes.
“Every effort was made to get people on the voters’ list, to confirm people were eligible and to find a path to ensure they could vote if they lived in the riding and were eligible to support their candidate,” Melanie Richer, the NDP’s director of communications, said after the vote.
“Overall, very few who showed up to vote were turned away,” she added. “Early on, a few people were turned away because they expressly stated that they had not purchased their own memberships. This is in line with party policy.”
Last month, the Parkdale People’s Economy, a non-partisan network of more than 30 community-based organizations working toward “decent work, shared wealth and equitable development in the neighbourhood,” penned a public letter. In it they expressed concerns about the process of voting for local candidates. The open letter was also addressed to the NDP as well as Liberal Party and Conservative Party.
The network identified three areas of concern: the ability of parties to “process cash-based memberships at a comparable rate to credit-based memberships;” the unavailability of translation services at nomination meetings; and finally “the lack of process and protocol with respect to continuing a nomination process if there are significant discrepancies in the registered voters’ list.”
Gebresellassi says the provincial and federal wings of the NDP rejected a suggestion that a mediator be hired to discuss a solution to concerns expressed by her campaign over the voting.
Bruno says the Gebresellassi campaign’s decision to go public with some of their concerns in NOW precipitated that decision.
She wrote in an email to Gebresellassi on July 11 that “given that your campaign has already … put the party’s integrity into question, we will not be engaging in a voluntary mediation process as there has been a loss of trust here.”
Repeated attempts to reach Bruno for comment for this story went unanswered.