York Debating Society faces off on landed immigrants’ right to vote


Above: from left: Jeric Kison; Raj Anand, human rights lawyer with WeirFoulds LLP; Andrew Monkhouse; Alan Borovoy; Sarah Sahagian and Michael Soo

The York Debating Society participated in the first annual A. Alan Borovoy Debate, hosted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on Sept. 24. The debate centred on the question of whether non-citizens should be granted the legal right to vote in municipal elections.

The debate was held during a conference on citizenship, immigration status and discrimination, titled “Who Belongs? Rights, Benefits, Obligations and Immigration Status”. The event was hosted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in conjunction with the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto Sept. 23-25 and featured several renowned speakers on the field of immigration law. Borovoy, former general counsel of the CCLA and an avid debater himself, opened the event with a speech highlighting the importance of debate.

Four members of the York Debating Society (YDS) took part in the Canadian Parliamentary-style debate. Andrew Monkhouse, a second-year student in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and Michael Soo, a political science student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (and former president of the YDS), argued for the right of non-citizens to vote. They contended that landed immigrants have earned a say in Toronto’s municipal policies that directly impact them, especially after having lived in the city for several years.

Jeric Kison, a fourth-year business student in the Schulich School of Business at York University, and Sarah Sahagian, a second-year doctoral candidate in women’s studies, argued the case against. They defended the current law which restricts voting rights to citizens who, by definition, have demonstrated a long-term commitment to their place of residence and an understanding of Canada’s political system.

“Participating in the first-ever Alan Borovoy debate was a great honour for the YDS, which prides itself in promoting the discussion of today’s most thought-provoking issues,” said Kison. “It also puts the spotlight on York University, which played an active role in encouraging students to participate in the democratic process by organizing the mayoral candidates debate held at the Keele campus.” (See YFile Sept. 24.)

In two weeks, the YDS will be at the U of T for this year’s Hart House Invitational. Osgoode graduate Rudi Lof bagged the top speaker prize at last year’s event.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is a national organization that was constituted in 1964 to promote respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Its work, which includes research, public education and advocacy, aims to defend and ensure the protection and full exercise of those rights and liberties for all Canadians. The Association is sustained by several thousand paid supporters drawn from all walks of life.

The York Debating Society is a student-run organization dedicated to promoting debate, public speaking and discussion of issues in an intellectual environment. The society holds public debates, hosts debating tournaments at the university and high school levels, and facilitates debating workshops for students at York and surrounding high schools.