POLITICS
06/10/2014 05:27 EDT | Updated 08/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontario Election 2014: Liberals Allege 'Voter Suppression' By PCs

CP

A Progressive Conservative candidate in London sent letters to 64 homes in her riding containing mistaken information about where to vote in Thursday's Ontario election, the party acknowledged Tuesday afternoon, for which the Liberals have filed a complaint with Elections Ontario alleging possible "voter suppression." 

The letters "may have caused some confusion for residents of 64 households in the riding of London North Centre," PC hopeful Nancy Branscombe said in a statement. In an interview with CBC News, she called the incident a mix-up by volunteers on her campaign who mistakenly stuffed letters for friends and supporters into the wrong envelopes.

"I want to apologize for any convenience. We are contacting these household to clarify."

A copy of one such letter being circulated by the Liberals was sent to Mariam Hamou, a Liberal Party member in the area. 

"I wanted to remind our friends and neighbours that this Thursday June 12th is Election Day," says the letter, which appears to be signed by Tim Gatten, a constituency assistant to the riding's Conservative MP.

"This election my wife and I are planning on voting together ensuring our voice will be heard.... Our plan is to drive together to the Ridgeview Community Church at 1470 Glenora Dr for the opening of the polls at 9 a.m.," it continues, with the church name, address and voting date in bold. 

"Maybe we will bump into each other at Ridgeview Community Church!"   

'Eerily similar' to Guelph robocalls, Liberals say

The problem, the Liberals say in their complaint to Elections Ontario, is that Hamou's correct polling place is about four kilometres in the opposite direction, at an elementary school.

"There is the very real risk that, if Ms. Hamou were to leave her home to vote just prior to the close of the polls on the 12th, she would miss her opportunity to vote by virtue of the fact that she was directed to the wrong polling location," reads the complaint letter, written by lawyers for the party.

"The above tactics are eerily similar to the Guelph robocall issue, currently at trial," the complaint says.

In the 2011 federal election, automated calls on voting day directed voters to the wrong polling station in the Ontario riding of Guelph. Michael Sona, a Conservative campaign worker, was later charged and his trial wrapped up last week. The judge has reserved his ruling.

The Liberals say the letter from Branscombe's campaign echoes the wording of a letter sent out by Tory candidate Bart Maves during a byelection in Niagara Falls in February. That letter told some voters, "Our plan is to drive together to the Orchard Park School (7555 Montrose) for the opening of the polls at 9 a.m." 

Orchard Park School is actually at 3691 Dorchester Road, or 5.8 kilometres to the northeast. The Maves campaign explained to a local Niagara radio station at the time that an "administrative error" caused the mistaken letters to be sent out.

The Liberals' complaint to Elections Ontario questions whether two similarly worded letters could be mere mistakes. "We... are most concerned that this constitutes a deliberate attempt at voter suppression," the party says.

Elections Ontario would not confirm whether it has received a complaint or whether it is investigating.

Spokesperson Peter Berry said that in general, when the agency gets a complaint, "it is reviewed by Elections Ontario and may be investigated. If the chief electoral officer believes there may have been an apparent contravention of the law, he is required to refer the matter to the Ministry of the Attorney General," who can forward it to police for further investigation and prosecution.

PC candidate Branscombe is seeking to unseat three-term incumbent Deb Matthews of the Liberals in London North Centre. Matthews defeated Branscombe in the 2011 election with 44 per cent of the vote to Branscombe's 29 per cent.

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