OTTAWA - The number of complaints about fraudulent or misleading telephone calls in last year's federal election has almost doubled, according to court documents filed by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
By mid August, Elections Canada had received 1,394 complaints "alleging specific occurrences" in 234 of Canada's 308 federal ridings, the lawyer for the elections watchdog says.
That's up from the more than 700 specific complaints that the commissioner's office publicly reported in March to clear the air after an online campaign attracted 30,000-plus expressions of concern by Canadians.
But the elections commissioner, in his latest court offering, declined to respond to a number of other disclosure requests by advocacy group the Council of Canadians.
"Like all law enforcement agencies, the Office of the Commissioner treats complaints and the office's ongoing investigations in confidence and discloses neither the information collected nor the source of the information, except as necessary for law enforcement purposes," wrote John Laskin, representing the commissioner's office.
The letter goes on to "emphasize" that the total number of complaints and ridings "does not provide any indication of whether complaints are ... substantiated, or whether complainants reported their voting behaviour to have been affected."
Allegations of fraudulent and misleading phone calls designed to suppress the vote of targeted constituents during the May 2, 2011, election are currently being investigated by the commissioner's office.
Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer, said this spring that the investigation "touches on the fundamentals of our democracy, how we elect our representatives. I can't see anything more serious than that in our democratic institutions.''
The investigation has centred on Guelph, Ont., where a number of residents say they received automated phone calls from someone claiming to be from Elections Canada and directing them to a wrong or non-existent polling station.
While the misleading phone calls appeared to target non-Conservative voters, the Conservative party insists it had no involvement in any such scheme and says it is assisting the investigation.
The Council of Canadians, a nationalist, left-leaning advocacy organization, is leading a parallel court battle to contest the election results in seven closely-fought ridings, arguing that misleading calls to voters may have skewed the outcome.
The group wanted specific information from Elections Canada on the location and nature of robocall complaints, and how many separate investigations are underway, in order to bolster its case.
Elections commissioner Yves Cotes submitted a lengthy certificate to the Federal Court dated Aug. 17, declining to release much of the requested information.
Cote cited four main reasons for his non-disclosure:
— Protecting the integrity of an ongoing investigation.
— Maintaining public confidence in the fairness of the electoral process and enforcement of the elections rules.
— Protecting the presumption of innocence.
— Ensuring the commissioner remains impartial and non-partisan, and is perceived as such by the public.
"It's important to know (the number of complaints) has increased," Maude Barlow, the chairperson of the Council of Canadians, said in an interview. "That, I think, makes our case stronger and the concern of Canadians stronger."
But Barlow wasn't buying Elections Canada's reasons for not disclosing more, saying the information should be public.
"We we would like to know what ridings, we would like to know the actual nature of the complaints. We feel that people have a right to the kinds of details that simply are not there."
The council's case is to be heard in Federal Court in December.
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.