OTTAWA - A Conservative MP whose election was overturned by a judge is appealing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Until the top court resolves the case, Ted Opitz is vowing to continue doing his job as MP for the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre.
But Liberals maintain the appeal is simply a stalling tactic, designed to allow Opitz to unfairly use his parliamentary resources to campaign for an eventual byelection.
Only five other election results have been nullified by the courts since 1949; none of those rulings were appealed and byelections were quickly called to re-determine the will of the people in each riding.
But Opitz said Monday he's exercising his automatic right to appeal to the top court because he has an obligation to the 52,000 people in his Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre who "followed the rules and cast their ballots."
"Their democratic choice has been called into question by the decision relating to 0.15 per cent of those ballots," the MP said in a statement.
"It is in the public interest that election results be respected and that voters not be disenfranchised."
Opitz won Etobicoke Centre by just 26 votes over Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj. The loser went to court, claiming procedural irregularities.
Earlier this month, an Ontario Superior Court judge found that Elections Canada officials made clerical errors at the polls. Justice Thomas Lederer threw out 79 votes and overturned the final result.
Wrzesnewskyj called the appeal a "stall tactic" that will leave Etobicoke Centre voters in limbo, potentially for months.
"The legitimacy of the outcome is in question here. We don't know what the will of the people was so something was taken away from all 50,000 voters who did play according to the rules," he said in an interview.
Under the Canada Elections Act, the Supreme Court is required to hear an appeal of a contested election result "without delay and in a summary manner."
Andres Garin, the court's executive legal officer, couldn't give firm details of how the case will be handled, noting this is the first time the top court has been involved in a contested election. But he said he imagines the court will set a date for a hearing after consulting both parties in the case.
The court is sitting in June but Garin suspected the parties might want more time to prepare, which would most likely mean no hearing until the fall. He said a hearing during the summer, when the court normally does not sit, is possible but "highly unlikely."
Noting that the case has been before the courts for a year already, Wrzesnewskyj said he's instructed his legal team to push for a hearing in June. He urged Opitz to do the same, although he doubted the Tory will be in any rush.
"The democratic process is in tatters and we need to restore the integrity of the system so that people have confidence in our democracy," Wrzesnewskyj said.
"We need to fix it and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible."
In the meantime, Wrzesnewskyj said Opitz should sit out votes in the House of Commons.
"It's mind-boggling to think someone that's been found to not legitimately represent the will of the people in an election, that that individual could continue taking part in votes in the House of Commons and votes in committees. That's a terrible precedent."
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae went further, saying it's "completely inappropriate" for Opitz to carry on as though nothing has happened. As long as Opitz remains an MP, Rae noted, he can use the Commons as a podium, use franking privileges to issue free mailings to constituents, and access a $300,000 budget to run his constituency office.
"He's using his position as an MP to, you know, to promote himself," said Rae.
"And it obviously puts Mr. Wrzesnewskyj or anybody else at a very considerable disadvantage."
The Etobicoke Centre result was overturned on the basis of improperly filled out paperwork for voters left off the list of electors or who needed someone to vouch for their identity. In his ruling, Lederer specifically stressed the irregularities were the result of clerical errors by well-meaning Elections Canada officials, not the product of fraud or intentional wrongdoing.
However, since then, Wrzesnewskyj has resurrected other more serious allegations of ballot-box stuffing and voter suppression by Opitz's campaign, though nothing has been proven.
It has been just over a year since the last federal election, one that has become known almost as much for allegations of electoral fraud in Guelph, Ont., as for the way it redrew the House of Commons.<br><br> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Investigators are now looking into calls wrongly claiming to be from Elections Canada that redirected voters to a polling station they couldn't use</a>. It's illegal both to interfere with a person's right to vote and to impersonate Elections Canada.<br><br> A year later, here's what we do know, according to court documents and information provided in interviews:<br><br> <strong><em>With files from CBC.</em></strong><br><br> (CP)
1. Probe Started Early
Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews started looking into complaints in Guelph on May 5, 2011, three days after the election that saw reports of illicit phone calls. The winning candidate in the riding, Liberal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/10/robocalls-by-liberals-guelph_n_1336895.html" target="_hplink">Frank Valeriote, compiled a list of almost 80 names</a> of people complaining about the calls. News of the investigation didn't break until Feb. 22, 2012. (Thinkstock)
All political parties use automated robocalls and live calls to identify voter support and contact people during a campaign. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/23/racknine-robocalls-elections-canada_n_1296383.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">The campaign of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke used RackNine</a>, a company that offers voice broadcasting services, to make legitimate robocalls to campaign supporters. The person who made the fraudulent robocalls also used RackNine. (Alamy)
3. Pierre Poutine
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/robocalls-scandal-pierre-poutine_n_1307730.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">person who made the calls used a disposable, or burner, cellphone, registered to a "Pierre Poutine."</a> The RackNine charges were paid via PayPal using prepaid credit cards, purchased at two Shoppers Drug Mart stores in Guelph. Shoppers Drug Mart doesn't keep its security camera videos long enough to see who bought the cards more than a year ago. (Alamy)
4. IP Traced
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/andrew-prescott-pierre-poutine-robocalls-conservative_n_1478809.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Elections Canada traced the IP address used to access RackNine</a> on election day and send the fraudulent message. Mathews got a court order for Rogers, the company that provided the internet service to that IP address, to provide the customer information that matches that address, on March 20, 2012. (Alamy)
5. Andrew Prescott Linked To Poutine IP
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/andrew-prescott-pierre-poutine-robocalls-conservative_n_1478809.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Pierre Poutine and Burke campaign worker Andrew Prescott (pictured here with Tony Clement) accessed their RackNine accounts using the same IP address</a>. On election day, they accessed their RackNine accounts from the same IP address within four minutes of each other, Mathews says in documents filed in court.
6. But Accounts Don't Match
A court document lists the billing account numbers for the customer information provided by Rogers to Mathews. <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/11/pol-robocalls-guelph-rogers-account-numbers.html" target="_hplink">Those accounts don't match</a> the number found on the Burke campaign's Rogers invoices submitted to Elections Canada, suggesting RackNine wasn't accessed through a computer in the Burke campaign office.
7. Misleading Calls Discussed?
Two Conservative staffers, accompanied by the party's lawyer, told Mathews they overheard <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/michael-sona-robocalls-pierre-poutine-guelph_n_1479400.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Michael Sona (pictured here with Stephen Harper), another Burke campaign worker, talking about "making a misleading poll moving call."</a> Sona, who stepped down from a job in the office of Conservative MP Eve Adams when the story broke, has previously said he had nothing to do with the misleading calls.
8. Poutine Used Tory Database?
Arthur Hamilton, the Conservative Party's lawyer, told Mathews the list of phone numbers uploaded to RackNine by Pierre Poutine appeared to be a list of identified non-Conservative supporters, with data on it that was updated in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/17/robocalls-scandal-privacy-information_n_1525197.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">CIMS, the party's database</a>, days before the election. The CBC's Terry Milewski had reported a similar pattern after sifting through complaints in 31 ridings.
9. Deluge Of Complaints
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/29/marc-mayrand-testimony-robocalls_n_1387176.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">News coverage led to 40,000 people contacting Elections Canada one way or another</a> -- whether to report a misdirecting call or by signing an online petition to express concern that it had happened -- chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand told a parliamentary committee in April. There are now specific allegations in almost 200 ridings by 800 people.