Meeting Summary – General Meeting – December 4–5, 2014
Remarks by the Commissioner of Canada Elections
Yves Côté, Commissioner of Canada Elections (the Commissioner), introduced Eric Ferron, Senior Director of Investigations, and Marc Chénier, Senior Director of Legal Services, at the Commissioner's Office. The aim of the presentation was to give an overview of the Commissioner's Office and the impact of the new legislation. The Commissioner stated that he would not comment on investigations.
This presentation generated a lot of discussion. A question was raised about the authority to compel the transmission of documents and information to the Commissioner, and the policy that is applied when parties or individuals refuse to give information or documents. The Commissioner was also asked if he would post information on non-cooperation with ongoing investigations, as this may impact public confidence in political entities. Mr. Côté answered that he is not required to make non-cooperation public. The power to apply to judges to obtain orders compelling individuals to give information was requested of Parliament, but was not granted in the legislation. Understanding that the Commissioner's responsibilities are prescribed by the law, it was suggested that he should have the authority to make it public when parties do not cooperate with investigations. To that, the Commissioner indicated that in cases where he believes that a public disclosure would be in the public interest, he would take that path.
Members inquired whether the Commissioner's Office had the resources required to protect voters and asked how many investigators are on staff. Mr. Côté replied that they currently have ten highly qualified investigators on staff, many of whom are former RCMP officers, and that this number will grow as the Office prepares for the next general election. The capacity to hire more investigators is quite significant. He assured members that whistleblowers will be treated with the highest level of protection. The Office has experienced lawyers, an excellent investigative team and although the Office does not have the power to compel testimony, it nonetheless maintains a strong mandate.
When asked if costs are an issue in investigations, Mr. Côté answered that costs have to be a factor. Laying charges is more costly than seeking compliance with administrative measures. Sometimes there are cases that call for strong intervention by the Commissioner; in such cases, he will commit all expenses required to the investigation and, if the evidence collected justifies it, he will recommend the laying of charges. However, charges are not typically the preferred enforcement tool for the more minor offences.
The Commissioner noted that the report on the robocalls investigation was one of the few instances where the Commissioner issued a public report on a specific case. The 2014 report was to educate Canadians about robocalls and about the results of the investigation.
Under the new legal structure, the position of the Commissioner is within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The legislation provides that the Commissioner's annual report will be a section of the DPP's annual report and will be written by the Commissioner alone. In addition, the Commissioner retains full discretion to issue special reports when he deems it to be in the public interest.
A member asked whether the fact that the DPP is appointed by the party in power may diminish the trust in that office. The Commissioner first noted that Parliament is involved in the appointment of the DPP. He added that he has full confidence that the DPP will not intervene in the Commissioner's investigations given, in particular, the clear language in the legislation that specifies that the Commissioner is to operate independently of the DPP. Finally, he mentioned that, by law, it is the DPP alone who is invested with the power to approve the laying of charges under the Canada Elections Act.
Members asked that more time be given on the agenda for this discussion at future ACPP meetings. Many Canadians would expect the Commissioner to have the authority required to act strongly in response to events that jeopardize Canadians' confidence in the electoral system.