70% of Chileans in Canada support draft constitution, as majority in Chile vote to reject it

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Sebastian Ried, a Chilean living in Hamilton, voted in the referendum at a polling station in Toronto, one of six cities where Chileans could vote in Canada. He felt 'hope and fear' earlier in the day but was saddened by the results, he said Sunday evening.  (Submitted by Sebastian Ried - image credit)
Sebastian Ried, a Chilean living in Hamilton, voted in the referendum at a polling station in Toronto, one of six cities where Chileans could vote in Canada. He felt 'hope and fear' earlier in the day but was saddened by the results, he said Sunday evening. (Submitted by Sebastian Ried - image credit)

While voters in Chile made it clear Sunday they do not support the constitution that was proposed to replace the dictatorship-era document the country currently has, Chileans in Canada overwhelmingly voted in support of the draft.

"I'm sad but the results were overwhelming," Sebastian Ried, a Chilean man who lives in Hamilton and voted in the referendum from Canada, said Sunday evening.

With 99 per cent of the votes counted, the rejection camp had 61.9 per cent support compared to 38.1 per cent for approval. Unlike recent elections, voting was mandatory.

Meanwhile, results from Chileans abroad were exactly reversed — 60.9 per cent voted to support the new draft, 39.1 per cent rejected. In Canada, the gap was even wider, with 70.4 per cent supporting, 29.6 per cent rejecting.

There were around 15 million Chilean citizens and residents eligible to vote, including 97,000 Chileans abroad. Six cities in Canada held polling stations Sunday: Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal. A total of 4,838 Chileans cast ballots in those cities by the end of the day.

"It scares me that advances for the rights of women, Indigenous peoples and the environmental are not being recognized," said Ried who voted in support of the draft and had felt a mix of hope and fear earlier in the day.

If the proposal had passed, it would have replaced the constitution imposed under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and dramatically changed the country.

Daniela Caballero, who came to Canada with her husband Cristian Mansilla and their daughter in 2019, also voted in support of the draft, saying she was hoping it would help lessen inequality in Chile.

"First of all, I'd like to say I appreciate the transparency, and how quickly we are getting the results," she said after polls closed. "I'm proud of the democracy that we have, far from Pinochet's dictatorship."

Still, she was sorry to see the results, she said. "Looks like this is not how we will change the constitution... I hope tonight every Chilean (especially the politicians) takes a big breath and thinks about how we are going to do it."

Significant changes had been proposed

The vote came less than a year after leftist Gabriel Boric, a former student activist, won the presidential election in Chile and nearly three years after protests broke out in the country calling for, among other reforms, a new constitution.

"I think [the draft] recognizes a series of rights and problems that our country has not accepted. And it seems to me that it is a very good first step to building a fairer and better country for all Chileans," Ried said earlier on Sunday.

According to Pascal Lupien, a political science professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., whose research focuses on Latin America and social movements, the new constitution would have been a complete overhaul.

"I mean, it's just completely different … Chile would go from a very conservative, elitist, rigid constitution to one of the most progressive constitutions in the world," he said before the vote.

Some changes laid out in the draft included the abolition of the senate to replace it with a chamber of regions which, as the name states, would represent the different regions of the country.

The draft also listed education, housing and healthcare as rights, which would have been run by the state.

Nature would have also been accorded rights, Lupien said, something that could have caused tension with the country's powerful mining industry, which Canada also has stakes in.

According to the Canadian government, Chile is Canada's top investment destination in South and Central America —12th worldwide — with Canadian companies "present in mining, utilities, chemicals, transportation and storage services and financial services."

According to Lupien, Chile is the only country in Latin America that doesn't recognize Indigenous people in its constitution. The draft proposed more rights, including some land rights, for Indigenous people, he said.

That section in particular had been the target of misinformation in both Chilean media and social media, Lupien said.

"[This] has led a lot of people to believe that this will basically cause the state to disintegrate [and] that Indigenous people will be able to impose Indigenous law on non-Indigenous people."

That was not in fact the case, Lupien said.

Mixed reactions to the draft

Going into Sunday, Chileans both in Chile and in Canada were divided on the decision to change the constitution.

One Chilean man, not in Canada, said in a tweet translated from Spanish that the reason why he was rejecting the new draft is that "Chile is getting farther from Toronto and closer to Caracas, Venezuela. Chile is being destroyed from within like cancer," he wrote on Friday.

One woman writing from Canada, said she was voting to reject it as, in her view, "the new Constitution only divides," she said on Twitter Sunday.

Submitted by Daniela Caballero
Submitted by Daniela Caballero

From Canada, where thousands of Chileans came as refugees during the Pinochet era, Caballero said the vote had "a special meaning."

"[My generation is] the sons and daughters of democracy. We didn't live in a dictatorship [like our parents did]," she said.

Chile returned to democracy in 1990 but Pinochet's constitution remained.

"For some of those adults that were young when [Pinochet] was there, they say, 'okay, this is the last step to take this guy out.'"

'Back to the drawing board'

Lupien says there will likely be another constitutional convention after another draft is written. "Likely, they will be forced to remove some of the more progressive elements," he said.

"There's going to be, I think, a lot of turmoil, because there are a lot of people that have really been pushing for this.

"They will have to just go back to the drawing board... The decision to write a new constitution has been made, but that will probably take another year or so."

Ried says it's still the right time for a change in the country, with it closing in on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup d'état.

"As a minimum moral duty to our country, we deserve to start the 50 years of this anniversary with a new constitution."