Archive for February 2012
Ths Ottawa Citizen article is, well. Thanks to James Nicoll for digging up the link.
Canada’s former chief electoral officer says recent allegations of systematic voter-suppression phone calls are unprecedented in the country’s electoral history.
“We have never seen anything like this alleged case in terms of this potential organization and impact in terms of numbers,” says Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2007. “People vote twice, people destroy the signs, but this automated means and this use of call centres is the first time the allegations go as far as they are going. They’re serious.”
Last week’s Postmedia News-Ottawa Citizen investigation revealed evidence of fraudulent pre-recorded phone calls made during the May federal election in the riding of Guelph through services provided by the Edmonton-based voice-broadcast company RackNine Inc. Further developments in the story suggest that harassing live phone calls were made by callers posing as Liberal candidates in swing ridings. The Toronto Star reported Feb. 27 that more live phone calls had been made in the Thunder Bay area, with callers phoning on behalf of the Conservative Party to alert voters of purported poll location changes.
Kingsley says all three cases deal with the same violation of the Canadian Elections Act. Section 482(b) of the act finds anyone who “induces a person to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate at an election” guilty of intimidation of the electoral process.
Whether the calls were pre-recorded or live is irrelevant, argues Kingsley. He says the harassing phone calls are serious and violate the constitution.
“If someone is representing themselves to be Elections Canada, giving false information, changing the polls, and the purpose is to confuse electors to the extent that you’re attempting to discourage them from voting, then that is against the statute, in my view,” says Kingsley. “This is not small potatoes because what you are trying to do is interfere with the right of Canadians to vote and that is a constitutional right in Canada.”
Regardless of whether they work independently, for a political party, or for voice-broadcasting company, anyone convicted under Section 482(b) faces, on a summary conviction, a maximum $2,000 fine, or a maximum of one year in prison, or both. On an indictment, individuals found guilty face a maximum of five years in prison, a maximum $5,000 fine, or both.
However, Jack Siegel, a Toronto-based lawyer who practises election and political law, says the chances of indictment are slim to none, assuming the file even reaches the courts.
“After 25 years of practising law I’ve seen two or three files hands on where choice was to be made and every case was summary,” says Siegel.
Last November, the Conservative Fund was fined $52,000 by the Elections Act for breaking election laws. Siegel says the fact that the case took the summary route is probably a good indication that, if the allegations of the harassing phone calls went to court, they would follow a similar path. However, he also notes that the direction of the case is ultimately decided by the prosecutor.