Canada Venezuelan Torontonians cast referendum votes

01:50  17 july  2017
01:50  17 july  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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A woman casts her vote during an unofficial plebiscite against Venezuela 's President Nicolas Maduro's government and his plan to rewrite the constitution, in Caracas, Venezuela , July 16, 2017. More Americas News. Venezuelans Cast 'Symbolic' Votes in Unofficial Referendum .


It’s been a year since seven-year-old Guellermo Gonzalez’s family left their home in Venezuela for a new life in Toronto — and his parents’ reasoning, to him, was simple.

“Because they’re killing people,” he said.

The family was among thousands of Venezualan ex-pats in Toronto who turned out on Sunday to participate in what some called an act of civil disobedience — an unofficial global referendum.

Back in Venezuela, 90 people are believed dead and 1,500 have been injured since late March in protests against the government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Since 2014, the country has been in a declining state of political and economic upheaval.

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Now, in what his adversaries call a shift to dictatorship, Maduro is pushing to re-write their constitution.

Toronto was among 500 cities worldwide and 17 in Canada to vote in the referendum. The ballot urged the Venezuelan government to consult with its people and abide by its constitution.

While the outcome isn’t legally binding, voters hope it will add pressure to the Venezuelan government.

Under the watchful eye of his father, Alfredo, Guellermo sat at a table near the entrance of a North York soccer stadium, directing the voters who poured in. He said he wanted to come because he worries about his cousin back in Venezuela.

She has a serious allergy, but medication is getting more expensive.

Concern about family overseas was common among those who crowded into the La Liga soccer facility on Finch Ave. W.

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The 2009 referendum was a vote in which the citizens of Venezuela approved Amendment No. 1 (Enmienda No. 1) of the Constitution of Venezuela ; this abolished term limits for the offices of President, state governors, mayors and National Assembly deputies.

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Gia Mahmens said goodbye to her parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins several years ago. Though her two-year-old child is in Canada with her, she said she worries constantly about her family.

“The situation back home is very delicate right now,” she said.

In the last three years, Mahmens says she has watched the Venezuelan community in Toronto grow larger as her homeland becomes increasingly unsafe.

“My mom thanks every day that we’re here,” she said. “But that’s a parent saying to a child, ‘I’m so happy you’re far away from me — that you’re gone.’ ”

Organizers in Toronto were prepared for between 5,000 and 7,000 voters when the facility opened at 10 a.m. But by 8:30, crowds were already gathering — clad in Venezuelan flags as they lined up around the block.

The vote was called by the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties’ Democratic Unity Roundtable. The Canadian government expressed concern earlier this month about Venezuela’s stray from “constitutional order,” urging its government to respect citizens’ democratic rights.

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Polling and the Ballot: The Venezuelan Referendum . According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), 4,991,483 votes (or 58.26% of the total) were cast in to reconfirm Chávez, while 3,576,517 votes (or 41.74%) were cast to recall him4.

Ballot boxes at the unofficial Venezuelan referendum in North York on Sunday, July 16. Globally, the referendum aimed to oppose President Nicolas Maduro's rewriting of the country's constitution. © Victoria Gibson Ballot boxes at the unofficial Venezuelan referendum in North York on Sunday, July 16. Globally, the referendum aimed to oppose President Nicolas Maduro's rewriting of the country's constitution.

Isabel Pardo left her home country before her two daughters were born. She said she couldn’t do her job as a lawyer in Venezuela anymore.

“We live in a dictatorship that’s committed numerous human rights violations,” Pardo said. “Even though this is not an official election, it’s a public consultation. That has a lot of weight.”

But Guellermo is holding onto the chance that things in Venezuela will get better.

“I like the trees, the grass, the school, my house, everything,” he said, chatting happily. “I hope that I could go back there one day.”

Muslim cemetery: The story is not over, Couillard says .
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he was disappointed in the results of a vote against opening a Muslim cemetery in St-Apollinaire, and added that a great majority of Quebecers agree with him.Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the outcome of a referendum in which voters narrowly rejected a proposed Muslim-owned cemetery was disappointing.

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