Robocall Scandal: Six ridings remain Tory amid court finding fraud
On May 23, Federal Judge Richard Mosley ruled he won’t toss the election results in six ridings amid finding “thinly scattered” voter suppression and fraud in the May 2011 election. The case comes amid a challenge from citizens and democracy advocacy groups after learning of election fraud. The Conservatives cheered the ruling and recently, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand demands a crackdown.
A group of voters, backed by the Council of Canadians, challenged the 2011 election results in six ridings after receiving harassing and misleading robocalls designed to suppress their vote and argued it was coordinated by the Conservative Party. Mosley ruled that while fraud did occur, he won’t annul the results.
Defeated NDP candidate Nettie Wiebe in Saskatoon-Biggar-Rosetown riding said the challenge was about the integrity of our electoral process, not about who won the election.
“I think what should be clear is that this isn’t just about winning, losing. This is about the process because in the future it’s the process that will have to be assured. I’m satisfied that the judge was pretty clear that … there was fraud in the election.”
While Mosley ruled voter suppression occurred in the last election, he could not directly link it to the Conservative Party.
“I am satisfied that [it] has been established that misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country, including the subject ridings, and that the purpose of those calls was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their voting preference in response to earlier voter identification calls.
I am satisfied, however, that the most likely source of the information used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the [Conservative Party of Canada], accessed for that purpose by a person or persons currently unknown to this court.
There is no evidence to indicate that the use of the CIMS database in this manner was approved or condoned by the CPC.”
He added that if he had the evidence to link the suppression to a particular candidate or party’s campaign, he “would not have hesitated… to annul the result.”
However, the idea of voter suppression isn’t necessarily political. It is a matter of the integrity of Canada’s electoral process. Therefore, should it really matter if a particular candidate or party was behind the act?
Former Liberal MP Anita Neville is disappointed with the result. She lost Winnipeg South Centre by less than 700 votes to Conservative Joyce Bateman.
“It’s a disappointing decision in that he determined that it was not worthy of turning over the election results, but we feel vindicated that the fraud was acknowledged. It underminded the credibility of the election.”
However, the Council of Canadians found the ruling bitter-sweet.
“We’re not unhappy. We would be delighted if he had overturned results, but in the context we think it’s a very powerful decision,” said Garry Neil, the executive director of the Council of Canadians.
A Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey dismissed the court challenge as “a transparent attempt to overturn certified election results simply because this activist group didn’t like them.”
“There was no wrongdoing by the Conservative Party or any of the candidates or campaign teams targeted by these [court] applications and the court noted that not a single voter was produced to testify that they were prevented from voting due to alleged voter suppression.”
The Council of Canadians is considering an appeal but is meanwhile consulting its members.
Former NDP MP Jim Maloway expressed the need for an RCMP investigation into robocalls. He lost Elmwood-Transcona by less than 300 votes.
“Clearly the Conservative Party hierarchy was involved,” he said. “But unless there is a forensic audit done [by the RCMP] I would think you’re going to find that most of the [CIMS] databases have been erased or disappeared.”
“The official party will claim that it was rogue elements who did this,” he said, adding only a few people would have had access to the Conservative Party’s system and thus he finds the scenario unlikely.
Mosley said overturning the election results would lead to future legal fights and wouldn’t pose as the best solution. However, he said there was proof of fraud.
“The questions remaining are whether the fraud affected the results of the election, and if so, whether the court should exercise its discretion to annul the results in the subject ridings.”
He also tore the Conservatives apart for their attempts to derail investigations over some of the witness’s small donations to the Liberal party.
“These proceedings have had partisan overtones from the outset.
In reviewing the procedural history and the evidence and considering the arguments advanced by the parties at the hearing, it has seemed to me that the applicants sought to achieve and hold the high ground of promoting the integrity of the electoral process while the respondent MPs engaged in trench warfare in an effort to prevent this case from coming to a hearing on the merits.”
Mosley also slammed the Conservatives for making “little effort to assist with the investigation at the outset,” even though there is clear public interest.
“While it was begrudgingly conceded during oral argument that what occurred was “absolutely outrageous,” the record indicates that the stance taken by the respondent MPs from the outset was to block these proceedings by any means.”
However, based on his findings, Mosley found the fraud to be mainly wide spread.
“The number and location of the complaints received by Elections Canada from across Canada indicates that the voter suppression effort was geographically widespread but, apart from Guelph, thinly scattered.”
Council of Canadians national chair Maude Barlow said the ruling, while bitter sweet will “lead to a huge sole-searching in this country.”
“Whether we have the opportunity in those ridings to have elections, of course we’d have preferred that. But I think this is a very, very startling statement and decision. And I think it’s going to lead to a huge soul-searching in this country, and it certainly should lead to a soul-searching on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada and the prime minister.”
More recently, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand weighed in, calling for a crack down on robocalls. This comes after his warning that a similar scandal could repeat if rules aren’t toughened.
On Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called the ruling concerning.
“The fact that there was a systematic approach to doing that is extremely, extremely worrisome. The fact that it was tied in to the Conservative database as well is an indication of tremendous concern.”
What do you think of the ruling? Is it bitter-sweet? Does it go far enough?