The Council of Canadians and two voters who say they received misleading calls directing them to the wrong polling station just before the last federal election believe they still have a strong case for election fraud in six ridings.
At a press conference in Ottawa Wednesday, the Council of Canadians responded to an almost 150-page submission filed by Conservative Party lawyers arguing the election fraud case should be dismissed for lack of evidence.
The Conservative Party affidavit points to the fact that the group has not been able to produce a single witness who did not vote because of the misleading call.
Both applicants who appeared Wednesday, Sandra McEwing and Peggy Craig Walsh, had voted in advance polls in last May's election before receiving the calls.
Walsh, who lives in the Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming which was lost by the Liberal incumbent by just 18 votes in the last election, said, "Most people think the battle for democracy was won by previous generations and that we really don't have to do anything more about preserving democracy, but I think there are significant threats in our time and in our country to democracy."
McEwing said that even though she voted, the misleading call was similar to an unsuccessful attempt to break into a house, which, she said, is still a crime.
McEwing, who lives in the riding of Winnipeg South Centre, said she received a phone call about a week and a half before the election, with the caller asking whether the Conservatives could rely on her support. She said she responded "no" to the live caller. On election day, she received an automated call saying her polling station had been moved.
When she later learned that Elections Canada does not make phone calls, she said she was angry that someone tried to misdirect voters.
"What if you can't trust the election?" McEwing asked. She said that if someone chooses to "fill your house with misinformation" on election day, she shouldn't be obliged to spend half a day trying to find the correct information in order to ensure her right to vote.
McEwing said that she reported the misleading call to Elections Canada. "All I got was a phone call [in response]. I don't think that's enough."
"I mean, call me crazy, but I thought we were Canada the good. Who sits around and comes up with ideas to trick me out of my vote? I'm just about apoplectic [about this]."
Polling evidence of misleading robocalls
Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians, said that there is polling evidence that one per cent of voters in the six ridings, or 6,800 voters, did not vote due to the robocalls. It would violate voter privacy, he said, if his group attempted to find and call everyone of those voters to see if they were deterred from voting, as the Conservative Party has suggested.
"It's true we don't have 19 voters from the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming who are here saying I didn't vote as a consequence of receiving these calls, but we have very powerful polling data which indicates that's precisely what happened."
Neil also said a recent Supreme Court of Canada case, which upheld the election win of Conservative MP Ted Opitz in Etobicoke Centre, Ont., and set a high bar for overturning election results, does not harm the Council of Canadians case. That's because, he said, the case does not deal with ballots that should not have been in the ballot box, but rather with ballots that were never cast because voters were told to go to a wrong polling station.
Neil also questioned the Conservative Party's assertions that although some calls were made to voters, it was only to alert them to the fact that Elections Canada had changed some polling station locations, and that voters should make sure they knew where they were voting.
"So they called into these ridings, but you've heard from both Sandra [McEwing] and Peggy [Craig Walsh] that that is not the nature of the call they got. They got a call that said, this is Elections Canada calling. Due to higher than expected voter turnout your polling location has changed. That is not what the Conservative Party says they were doing," Neil said.
Elections Canada has reported that it changed 60 of 20,000 polling locations just prior to the last election.
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan, whose riding of Vancouver Island North is one of the contested ridings, said Wednesday, "This last federal election was my seventh federal election. I've run every election clean and ethically. There was nothing done differently. So we're just responding to events as they unfold, but I'm not losing any sleep over it."
Duncan won his riding by 1,827 votes. In the past four elections he has been in a tight race with the NDP candidate.
The six ridings in the court challenge are:
- Nipissing-Timiskaming (Ontario).
- Elmwood-Transcona (Manitoba).
- Winnipeg South Centre.
- Vancouver Island North.
A seventh riding, Don Valley East, is no longer part of the legal case after the named voter was found not to live in the riding and therefore became ineligible to challenge the result.
Hotline launched for Monday byelections
The Council of Canadians has started a telephone hotline so voters in three federal ridings where byelections are currently underway — Durham (Ont.), Calgary Centre and Victoria — can report suspicious phone messages or live calls.
The byelection vote in those ridings is Monday. The Calgary and Greater Toronto Area ridings were previously held by Conservatives, while the NDP is hoping to hold the seat in Victoria.
Suspicious activities should also be reported to Elections Canada, the group says, but "reports to Elections Canada are private, leaving the public in the dark about the nature or extent of any complaints," the group wrote in a press release Tuesday.
An access to information request obtained earlier this week revealed that Elections Canada received public complaints about robocalls giving false information about polling station changes as early as three days before the vote in the 2011 federal election.
Elections Canada has had more than 1,000 complaints from people in 234 ridings about phone calls that allegedly tried to direct voters to the wrong polling station.
Documents filed in Federal Court earlier this month show a company working for the Conservative Party, Responsive Marketing Group, made get-out-the-vote calls on behalf of Conservative candidates in a number of ridings, including five of six ridings in this Federal Court challenge.
The Council of Canadians case, representing eight voters from the six ridings in dispute, will be heard in Federal Court, starting on Dec. 10. The applicants are asking the court to overturn the results of the elections in those ridings.