Discussion Paper: Issues Arising from Improper Telecommunications with Electors
1. Alleged Improper Communications with Electors: What Happened in the May 2, 2011, General Election
This part of the paper summarizes the events that took place in the May 2, 2011, general election and reiterates steps that were taken in the following months by Elections Canada to investigate the matter.
- Initial calls and complaints (Guelph and elsewhere)
- In the days leading up to polling day, on polling day, and in the days that followed, complaints were received regarding automated calls, purportedly from Elections Canada, falsely informing recipients of a change in polling locations (primarily in Guelph, but complaints came in from other electoral districts as well).
- Other complaints alleged numerous, repetitive, annoying or sometimes aggressive live or automated calls, as well as calls made late at night, on a religious holiday or from American area codes, purportedly from candidates whose campaigns have subsequently often denied making the calls.
- In a few cases, professional call centres have subsequently acknowledged that some electors were given erroneous information concerning their polling location based on inaccurate or outdated data.
- Investigation of the Guelph complaintsFootnote 1
- Numerous complaints about telephone calls were received around 10 a.m. on May 2, 2011. The caller was described as a recorded female voice claiming to call on behalf of Elections Canada. The message was that due to a projected increase in poll turnout, the elector's voting location had been changed to another address. There was no truth to these calls. The caller was not representing Elections Canada, and no polling locations had been moved.
- The calling number that appeared on the call display of recipients' phones was the same. This number was assigned to a pay-as-you-go cell phone, and it was activated on April 30, 2011. The subscriber's name in Bell Canada's records is Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street in Joliette, Quebec. There is no such name or street in Joliette.
- Pierre Poutine's phone only ever called two phone numbers, both of which are assigned to a voice broadcasting vendor in Edmonton that also provided services to a campaign in Guelph.
- The individual initiating the calls was accepted by the voice broadcasting vendor as a client. Records from the vendor show that 7,676 calls were made to Guelph phone numbers between 10:03 and 10:15 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Saving Time) on May 2, 2011, bearing the calling number assigned to this individual.
- The list of numbers that were called is consistent with a list of non-supporters of a political party obtained from that party's database.
- The individual used a false name and address in his communications with the voice broadcasting vendor (Pierre Jones of 54 Lajoie Street in Joliette). There is no such address.
- The individual used PayPal to pay for the services rendered and gave PayPal the same false name and address. Payments (totalling $162.10) were made using three separate prepaid Visa cards purchased from two different Shoppers Drug Mart stores located in Guelph. All were made from a computer with the same IP address,Footnote 2 through a proxy server, intentionally designed to disguise the location of the computer. The individual also used the proxy server to communicate with the voice broadcasting vendor on some occasions.
- On other occasions, the individual communicated with the voice broadcasting vendor using an IP address associated with a campaign office. Personnel at the campaign office used the same IP address to communicate legitimately with the voice broadcasting vendor, and also with a political party to access its database.
- The calls to electors were transmitted from the voice broadcasting vendor using VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calling technology.
- VoIP calling is computer-generated calling over the Internet to recipients' telephones. This technology allows a voice broadcasting vendor to program into the call process any calling number its client wishes to be displayed on a recipient's call display. That number would have nothing to do with the actual call made by the vendor.
- Discovery by the media in February 2012 of court documents related to the investigation and subsequent influx of complaints and reactions
- More than 40,000 communications were received from electors following the disclosure of this information in articles first published in the Ottawa Citizen on February 23, 2012, and on following days.
- Most communications expressed outrage that individuals would try to weaken the electoral process by making false and misleading calls to electors.
- Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
- As a result of the media reports and public debate that followed, the CEO asked to appear before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to explain key aspects of Elections Canada's administrative and investigative processes. This appearance took place on March 29, 2012.
- On that date, the CEO reported that the number of complaints alleging specific occurrences of improper or fraudulent calls was near 800.Footnote 3
- The CEO committed to submitting a report, no later than March 31, 2013, that would examine the challenges posed by such calls and recommend improvements to the legislative framework.
- Current status
- The Commissioner of Canada Elections reported that, as of August 16, 2012, the number of complaints from electors who received such calls totalled 1,394. These complaints came from electors in 234 electoral districts, including Guelph.
Footnote 1 The following is based on information that was made publicly available through court records in the course of the Commissioner of Canada Elections' investigation. At the time of writing, the investigation is ongoing.
Footnote 2 An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical address assigned to each computer device that uses the Internet Protocol for communication on the Internet. The IP address can provide the physical address of a computer connected to the Internet through access to records of the Internet Service Provider.
Footnote 3 This number reflects instances of alleged improper phone calls reported by electors, as opposed to expressions of outrage or calls for action.