Guelph chapter shares public concern about election fraud

The Guelph Mercury reports, "Norah Chaloner, chair of the Guelph branch of the Council of Canadians, would like to see the investigation [into robocalls] reopened. 'We know with 99 per cent surety that there are other people out there who helped facilitate this theft from the public, and not just a theft but an actual diversion of our democratic rights', she said. 'It's almost traitorous for the country to have citizens acting in secrecy to take away the public's right to vote.'"

It would appear that the majority of Canadians are also very concerned about the potential for election fraud in 2015. A poll conducted by Environics and the Institute on Governance has found that nearly 70 per cent of Canadians are either very concerned (28 per cent) or somewhat concerned (41 per cent) that political parties might try to "manipulate the outcome of future elections through illegal activities."

Chaloner has previously commented, "We're still at risk, seriously, of having a fraudulent election again. It's a terrible thing when the public loses faith in the quality of the people who are running for political power. It weakens the fabric of our community totally."

Susan Delacourt, the Toronto Star's senior writer in Ottawa, says this high level of public concern stems from a series of incidents:

  • "One person, Michael Sona, has been sent to jail in what two courts have now ruled was a widespread, if shadowy scheme of voter suppression, known as 'robocalls'. While all parties carry out automated calls to voters, and some other MPs have faced fines for conducting them improperly, this particular controversy revolves around Conservative operatives’ alleged efforts to keep rivals’ supporters away from the voting booths on May 2, 2011.
     
  • One cabinet minister, Peter Penashue, was forced to resign over election misspending during the 2011 campaign and subsequently lost his seat in a 2013 byelection in Labrador.
     
  • The 2011 election result in Etobicoke Centre, which handed a narrow victory to Conservative MP Ted Opitz, was overturned by a provincial court in 2012 over voting irregularities. But Opitz was able to hold on to his seat when the dispute landed at the Supreme Court of Canada and the vote result was ultimately upheld.
     
  • Going back farther than the 2011 campaign, there was also the recent court ruling against Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro (now resigned) and his spending during the 2008 election.
     
  • As well, the Conservative Party of Canada was forced to plead guilty and pay a $52,000 fine in a case revolving around how it was shuffling advertising money between ridings during the 2006 election — the so-called 'in-and-out scandal'.”

The Guelph Mercury adds, "In April 2014, [the Commissioner of Canada Elections] Yves Côté closed the book on his investigation, concluding there was no evidence of a deliberate effort to mislead voters outside of Guelph." The newspaper highlights Green Party leader Elizabeth May's attempt to reopen that investigation given the two judicial rulings on the 'robocalls' claiming to be Elections Canada and directing non-Conservative voters to the wrong polling stations on the day of the election:

  • "The first is the criminal ruling on Michael Sona, communications director of the Guelph 2011 Conservative campaign. Sona was found guilty under the Canada Elections Act of willfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting, after about 7,000 misleading robocalls were made in Guelph on May 2. In his ruling, Justice Gary Hearn stated, now, that 26-year-old Sona did not act alone.
     
  • The second ruling is from Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley, in response to a civil suit launched by eight voters supported by the left-leaning non-profit Council of Canadians. The case sought to have the results of six other ridings across the country overturned based on complaints of calls directing voters to false polling stations on Election Day 2011. The election results were not overturned, but in May 2013 Mosley did conclude that electoral fraud had occurred outside of Guelph."

In December 2014, the Council of Canadians filed a formal complaint with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) asking it to re-open the investigation into election fraud. While the PPSC has sought more jail time for Sona "to reflect the gravity of the offence", it notes that it "is not an investigative agency and its prosecutors do not carry out investigations" and that "the PPSC does not supervise the Commissioner's investigations and cannot direct the Commissioner to commence or re-open one."

The Toronto Star's Delacourt comments, "The lingering reminders of 2011 have taken their toll, in the form of voter cynicism about how our basic democracy works. Politicians of all stripes should see that as marching orders for 2015. Rather than worry about winning mere votes whenever the campaign does roll around, they should be focused right now on winning back the voters’ trust in elections."

For more on the Council of Canadians democracy campaign, please click here.