OTTAWA - Fraud was definitely a factor in the rash of misleading robocalls that bedevilled voters in six federal ridings in the 2011 election, but not enough of one to justify overturning the results, a Federal Court judge has decided.
The ruling, released late Thursday, left both sides in the dispute — the Conservative party in one corner, the voters who fielded the calls in the other — claiming victory of a sort.
Though fraud was at play as a result of the robocalls, the scale didn't justify wiping out the results of voting, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley concluded.
"The scale of the fraud has to be kept in perspective," Mosley wrote in the decision.
"The number and location of the complaints received by Elections Canada from across Canada indicates that the voter suppression effort was geographically widespread but, apart from Guelph (Ont.), thinly scattered."
The ruling cleared the Conservative party and its candidates of any effort to mislead voters, but said the most likely source of information used to make the misleading calls was the party's CIMS database, accessed by "a person or persons currently unknown to this court."
The Conservatives issued a statement noting the ruling found no evidence of wrongdoing by the party or any of the candidates or campaign teams involved in the challenge. The statement also blasted the advocacy group that bankrolled the challenge.
"The Council of Canadians court challenge was a transparent attempt to overturn certified election results simply because this activist group didn't like them," the statement said.
Still, the council — which paid the legal bills of the eight voters who launched the challenge — took solace in the judge's finding that fraud did occur.
“What we can do with that I think is to demonstrate that there was very shady business going on,” said executive director Garry Neil.
"What happened in the 2011 federal election has significantly raised public consciousness about these kind of shenanigans and I suspect it will be far more difficult, if not impossible, for somebody to get away with this kind of thing in future."
The complainants are considering whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. If they do, the council will continue to cover the cost, Neil said.
Maude Barlow, the council`s national chair, called Mosley’s ruling a ”powerful victory” for the eight voters who launched the challenges, adding that while the Conservative Party will try to paint this as a victory, ”they have nothing to celebrate.”
She said the council is launching an appeal to raise the $70,000 needed to cover a possible appeal.
The voters who launched the challenge were among those who say they received misleading and harassing robocalls during the campaign.
The six ridings in question are Vancouver Island North in British Columbia; Yukon; Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar in Saskatchewan; Elmwood-Transcona and Winnipeg South Centre in Manitoba; and Nipissing-Timiskaming in Ontario.
Elections Canada is also probing fraudulent robocalls, stemming from complaints that have surfaced in 56 ridings across the country.