The Council of Canadians, a citizens advocacy organization, represented eight voters who received misleading robocalls directing them to the wrong polling station during the last general election. The group had asked the Federal Court to void the election results in six ridings.
On Thursday, Judge Richard Mosley ruled that electoral fraud took place not just in the six ridings named in the case, but across the country. He also found that whoever committed the fraud had access to the Conservative Party's CIMS database, an exhaustive list of information on voters that includes names, phone numbers and voting preference.
However, the judge did not overturn the election results in those ridings, nor did he find the Conservative Party or its candidates or suppliers were directly involved in "the campaign to mislead voters."
On Friday, a spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada, when asked if the party would release a list of people who had access to the CIMS data, wrote in an email, "The court was clear: neither the CPC, nor any of the six CPC candidates, nor their agents engaged in any fraudulent activity." Fred DeLorey continued, "The court found no evidence of wrongdoing by anyone that should affect 'the credibility of the vote' in the 2011 election. "
'It behooves us to find out what happened'
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who ran Elections Canada for 17 years, said in an interview that the court's finding of fraud is extremely serious. "It behooves us to find out what happened. We cannot be still," he said.
Kingsley noted the the "hanging chad fiasco" in the U.S. Bush-Gore election in 2000 damaged the reputation of the country's election system. "We stand at the same place now. We must regain our electoral system, and punish him or her or them who created this issue." He said the will to win in politics is "so strong that it can easily overcome what the law requires of people who are running."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, speaking from Trois-Rivières on Friday, said, "What we want Canadians to know next time, is this is how the Conservatives function. They cheat. They cheat democracy. They cheat your right to vote. Know that about them."
Speaking from Halifax, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it is "extremely worrisome" that there was a systematic approach to interfering in someone's right to vote in the robocall scandal.
Conservative MP John Duncan is one of the MPs who would have lost his riding of Vancouver Island North if the Federal Court case annulled the results because of misleading robocalls.
Asked about the judge's finding that electoral fraud took place, he said, "I simply don't believe it. And the reasons are many but, if it really did occur, they would find people that would know something about this and really, there's no smoking gun, there's nothing there."
Conservative MP Ryan Leef is another MP whose election results in Yukon were challenged. Asked whether any of his campaign staff had access to the CIMS database, he said, "I said that from the early stages, that we were crystal clear, we did nothing wrong. We ran a very clean and healthy campaign, we had great Yukon people working on that campaign."
'The epicentre of robocalls'
Frank Valeriote is the Liberal MP whose Guelph riding became what he calls "the epicentre of robocalls" in the last election. Guelph was not among the six ridings in the federal court case, but was mentioned by the judge because thousands of calls were made, and one person, a campaign worker for the Conservative candidate, Michael Sona, has been charged for preventing or trying to prevent a voter from receiving a ballot.
In a phone interview from Guelph, Valeriote spoke about election day on May 2, 2011. "It felt like we were under attack, but we survived," he said. "Fortunately we responded quickly by letting Elections Canada know so it could contact local radio to warn people."
Valeriote thinks most people were able to get to the right poll, even though they were told to go to false addresses by the robocalls, and he won by a 6,000-vote margin.
Valeriote's riding association was fined almost $5,000 by the CRTC for making robocalls about his opponent's views on abortion without identifying that the calls were coming from the Liberal Party. Valeriote said that as soon as he found out a campaign worker commissioned the calls, he alerted Elections Canada and the CRTC himself.
The Council of Canadians is considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Executive director Garry Neil said the appeal must be filed within eight days. Under the Elections Act, the contestation of an election must be automatically heard by the highest court, if the application is made, and Neil added, "heard expeditiously."
Last year, the top court held a special sitting in July to quickly hear the appeal of MP Ted Opitz whose election in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre had been overturned in a lower court case brought forward by the former MP who ran against him in 2011, Borys Wrzesnewskyj. Opitz won his appeal.
The judge's findings of electoral fraud are based on a balance of probabilities, since this was a civil case, and not on the standard of beyond reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction.
Reached Friday by CBC, the RCMP said Elections Canada is still "the lead" in robocalls cases.
Elections Canada is investigating almost 1,400 complaints it received about misleading robocalls and "real-people" calls during the last election.
Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer of Elections Canada, in a March report suggested the law be changed to toughen rules regarding robocalls. He recommended fines up to $250,000 or five years in jail for fraudulent robocalls, and that telemarketers be required to keep records of all election-related robocalls for one year after an election. He also asked for greater powers to compel people to produce documents and answer questions when under investigation by Elections Canada.
In mid-April, Tim Uppal, minister of state for democratic reform, was about to table a bill on electoral reform, but withdrew it at the last moment. It's not known when the bill might appear.