OTTAWA - A Liberal MP's riding association has been slapped with a hefty fine for failing to adequately identify itself in robocalls during the 2011 election campaign.
A recorded message to voters in the southern Ontario riding of Guelph violated telemarketing rules by failing to state that it came from the Liberal party or MP Frank Valeriote's campaign, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Friday.
The infraction carried a $4,900 fine.
"The violations involved a pre-recorded message sent by the association that failed to identify on whose behalf the call was made; provide necessary call-back information; and display the originating telephone number or an alternate number where the originator could be reached," the CRTC said.
The CRTC says the penalty could have been as high as $15,000 for every single robocall that went out. But the association's spotty record-keeping kept the regulator from knowing precisely how many calls were made during a one-hour window on Apr. 30, 2011.
The automated calls warned against Conservative candidate Marty Burke's views on abortion after media reports that said he'd been endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition.
The Guelph Mercury reported that Burke won the endorsement after responding "no" to a coalition survey that asked, "Are there any circumstances under which you believe a woman should have access to abortion?"
"The race in Guelph is very close," said the message, recorded in a woman's voice. "Vote strategically on Monday to protect our hard-earned rights from the Conservatives and Marty’s extreme views."
Valeriote won the contest by a comfortable margin.
The Guelph MP said he accepts the CRTC's findings and is sorry for breaking the rules.
"We were unaware of certain requirements and inadvertently neglected to include some identifying features in the message, such as a phone number and address," Valeriote said in a statement.
"When I first learned of the errors in the call earlier this year, I was fully and immediately co-operative with the CRTC; I take full responsibility and apologize for the infringement."
Both the riding association and Valeriote have agreed to put into a place a compliance program to ensure they don't again run afoul of the rules, the regulator said.
"We appreciate that Mr. Valeriote and the association fully co-operated with our investigation and committed to comply with the rules in future campaigns," CRTC chief compliance and enforcement officer Andrea Rosen said in a statement.
"We expect political party associations and candidates who are running for office to put appropriate safeguards in place to ensure compliance with the rules."
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 Elections Canada.
The investigation has centred on Guelph, 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 RCMP has been called in to help Elections Canada with its investigation.
The CRTC fine pertains only to a breach of telemarketing rules and not to any possible violation of the Canada Elections Act.
Valeriote called the incident "an important learning experience."
"Consequently, I have volunteered to do whatever I can to assist the CRTC to educate MPs, candidates and their staff to the full extent of regulations governing calls and the use of auto-diallers," Valeriote said.
"It is important for these types of investigations to take place regularly to ensure that Canadians are aware of our rules and that they are respected."
Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey questioned whether the calls swayed the election result in Guelph. Valeriote defeated runner-up Burke by more than 6,000 votes.
"One can't help but wonder, without these misleading phone calls to voters, would the election outcome in Guelph been different?" DeLorey said in a statement.
"The Liberal party has some explaining to do — How many other Liberal campaigns broke Canadian telecommunication rules? How many used robocalls to mislead Canadian voters?"
The CRTC fine offers just the latest evidence of electoral missteps in recent years.
In March, the Conservatives paid back Elections Canada $230,198 and dropped its Supreme Court appeal of the so-called "in-and-out" scheme.
The case involved national funds funnelled to local ridings that in turn paid for national advertising in the 2006 election — a practice that caused the party to exceed its legal spending limits.
The party also settled last November for another $52,000 for breaking the Elections Act.
Conservative Senators Irving Gerstein and Doug Finley and party officers Mike Donison and Susan Kehoe were charged with wilfully violating the party's spending limit in the 2006 campaign.
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Brian G. Rice
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.