Conservative Member of Parliament Ted Opitz speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 28, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
OTTAWA - Tory MP Ted Opitz's lawyer told Canada's top court Tuesday it can't toss out his client's election win over a few administrative errors.
Opitz is appealing a lower court decision overturning the election in the Toronto-area riding of Etobicoke Centre after the second-place Liberal candidate challenged the results over what he says were voting irregularities.
His lawyer, Kent Thomson, noted the sheer volume of the work during a general election, with well-meaning but inexperienced staff, meant clerical errors are inevitable.
"Documents do go missing, it's the nature of the process," he said, adding there was no evidence anyone who shouldn't have cast a ballot did.
"That's what would cause people to lose respect for the process - to find out that their constitutional right to cast a ballot hangs from so fine a thread," said Thomson.
"If that's the test, people will be contesting elections, we say, from here to doomsday."
But Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin raised concerns that disregarding those errors could undermine the confidence of the public in the electoral system.
"It's this uncertainty we have to deal with," she said.
The Supreme Court - which interrupted its summer break to hear the case - will decide whether to overturn the election win of rookie MP Opitz.
Opitz beat Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj by just 26 votes in Etobicoke Centre.
But Wrzesnewskyj's lawyer, Gavin Tighe, argued the ability to ensure voter identification and residency are key to the electoral process.
The Ontario Superior Court nixed the Etobicoke Centre results in May on the grounds that Elections Canada employees failed to complete registration certificates for some 79 voters that were necessary to prove they were eligible to vote.
The judge found people showed up at polling stations and were handed ballots even though they had no identification or weren't on the voters' list.
"It's the very integrity of the process that give the right to vote its value," Tighe told the panel of seven judges.
If the top court rules the vote was right to be overturned, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have to call a byelection for the riding.