02/24/2012 04:45 EST | Updated 04/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Elections Canada Ruling On Misleading Election Call: 'Inaccuracies' Happen

OTTAWA - Elections Canada dropped an investigation into a complaint about a misleading telephone call in the Waterloo, Ont., region that came from the Conservative campaign office, a newly obtained document shows.

The Waterloo incident bears a striking resemblance to similar robocalls made in the nearby riding of Guelph, which have been linked to a company that did campaign work for Conservative candidates in the last federal election.

Elections Canada and police are now looking into reports that the automated calls falsely advised Guelph voters that the location of their polling stations had changed. In other instances, voters received harassing late-night or early-morning calls that purported to be from an opposition campaign office.

At least one person in a nearby riding got a similar call.

The president of the Kitchener-Conestoga federal Liberal association complained to Elections Canada after being contacted by a woman named Carolyn Siopiolosz, who claimed an anonymous caller told her to vote at the wrong polling station.

"She became suspicious because her original poll was to be immediately across the street from where she lived and she had not heard of any official change," the Liberals said in their complaint.

"She was asked by the caller if she would like a ride to the new poll. At that, point, it is my understanding that she ended the conversation and called our returning officer."

Riding association president Joe Nowak gave The Canadian Press a copy of the complaint and Elections Canada's response.

"You are undoubtedly aware that during the course of an election, local campaigns engage in Get Out the Vote (GOTV) activity, which increasingly centres on extensive phoning of electors, including reminding individual electors of their polling place," Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews wrote to Nowak.

"Inaccuracies can occur. Potential offences arising from misinformation concerning polling stations, as was the case with Ms. Siopiolosz, require some indication of intentional misconduct."

"Ms. Siopiolosz's concern was expressed to and addressed by the returning officer for Kitchener-Conestoga between April 29 and May 2, 2011. A spokesperson for the Conservative Party has since belatedly admitted that they were responsible for the call, describing it as an error."

Elections Canada dropped the Waterloo investigation when Siopiolosz said she did not want to pursue the matter any further.

"Consequently, in view of the absence of any indication of intentional misconduct and considering Ms. Siopiolosz's response, the commissioner's office will not undertake any further inquiries relating to this call."

Mathews is now heading the latest Elections Canada investigation into the Guelph calls.

Edmonton-based Racknine Inc. has confirmed that its automated dialling service was used by someone to deliver the phoney messages.

Racknine CEO Matt Meier has expressed shock at the allegations and is promising to co-operate with any investigation.

And the Conservative party, through campaign manager Jenni Byrne, insisted it ran a "clean and ethical campaign" — while opening the possibility of a rogue operative.

"The party was not involved with these calls and if anyone on a local campaign was involved they will not play a role in a future campaign," Byrne said in a statement.

On Friday, there were various media reports that Conservative staffer Michael Sona, who worked on the federal election campaign in Guelph, was no longer with the office of MP Eve Adams. The Globe and Mail cited a source as saying Sona resigned after his name started "circulating in the media" in relation to the automated calls controversy, even though the newspaper said there is no public evidence he had any link to the matter. Neither his reported departure — nor whether there was a connection to the robocall controversy — could be confirmed.

Some of the Guelph calls came from a number in the 450 area code in southwestern Quebec and a few small towns in eastern Ontario.

CBC reported on May 2, election day, that an Ottawa woman also received a 450 area-code call that claimed to be from Elections Canada.

"[The call said] due to higher than normal voter turnout, they were changing our poll station. Then it got maybe a little staticy or garbley. You couldn't hear where the polling station was. And then it left a 1-800 number to call if you had any questions," Kathy Mahoney told CBC. She is married to Richard Mahoney, a Liberal candidate in recent elections.

Other Liberals have reported similar calls from Nova Scotia to Winnipeg.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae sent a letter Friday to the House of Commons Speaker requesting an emergency debate Monday when MPs return from a week-long break.

"The suppression of voters can undermine the legitimacy and credibility of those elected to serve in Parliament," wrote Rae, who called voting "the most basic right that exists in our democracy."

Last December, the Conservative party was castigated by the Speaker of the House of Commons for conducting a "reprehensible" phone campaign in Montreal MP Irwin Cotler's riding, which falsely suggested the MP was about to step down.

Elections Canada issued a memo on May 16 with observations on the federal vote. The document warned it might not be possible to get to the bottom of any dirty tricks. But the memo also said that nothing happened that could have changed the results of the general election or in any riding.

Under the Elections Act, an election in a specific riding can be overturned if a "competent court" finds "there were irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices that affected the result of the election."

However any application to the court to contest the election must be made within 30 days of the election results being published in the Canada Gazette. A complaint can also be made the same day the applicant "knew or should have known of the occurrence of the alleged irregularity, fraud, corrupt practice or illegal practice."

Moreover, the Commissioner of Canada Elections would have to investigate and refer the matter to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which would in turn decide whether charges were warranted. All of which means it is premature even to suggest any election results could conceivably be overturned.

Allegations of campaign overspending by the Conservatives in the 2006 election were not resolved until November 2011, when the party cut a deal with the Public Prosecutor and pleaded guilty to charges under the Elections Act after years of claiming innocence.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version wrongly said Campaign Research conducted the Waterloo call

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