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Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors

1. Chronology of Events

The recommendations contained in this report aim to address various forms of deceptive communications with electors and are not restricted to the specific acts that took place in the 41st general election. Nonetheless, it is important to provide the context that gave rise to this report and the recommendations it puts forward. This part of the report reviews what the investigation has so far publicly disclosed about what happened in Guelph and in other electoral districts, as well as various actions taken in Parliament and through the courts as a result.

Initial calls and complaints (Guelph and elsewhere)

In the days leading up to polling day, on polling day, May 2, 2011, and in the days that followed, Elections Canada received a number of complaints 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).

The agency also received other complaints alleging 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. These calls were purportedly made on behalf of candidates whose campaigns have subsequently often denied making the calls.

In one case, a professional call centre has since acknowledged that some electors were given erroneous information concerning their polling location based on inaccurate or outdated data.

Investigation of the Guelph complaints

The information that follows is already publicly known.Footnote 1 It is summarized here to the extent necessary to provide context for the report, and not to suggest or prejudge the result of the investigation.

Numerous complaints were received about telephone calls made to electors in the electoral district of Guelph, 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 in that district.

The calling number that appeared on the call display of recipients' phones was the same for all recipients. Through the investigation, it was later found out that this number was assigned to a pay-as-you-go cell phone that 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.

The investigation established that 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 the campaign of a candidate 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 telephone 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 that could have been obtained from that party's database.

The individual used a different false name and address in his communications with the voice broadcasting vendor (Pierre Jones of 54 Lajoie Street in Joliette, Quebec). There is no such address in that city.

The individual used PayPal to pay for the services rendered by the voice broadcasting vendor and gave PayPal that 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 through a proxy server using the same IP address,Footnote 2 which allows the originating sender 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 the campaign office of a candidate running in the electoral district of Guelph. 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 made 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 could have nothing to do with the actual call made by the vendor.

Disclosure by the media in February 2012 of court documents related to the investigation

Following the disclosure of the above information in articles first published in the media on February 23, 2012, and on following days, more than 40,000 communications were received from electors. Most of these communications expressed outrage that individuals would try to weaken the electoral process by making false and misleading calls to electors. However, a significant number of individuals from electoral districts across Canada made specific complaints regarding improper calls.

Investigation of complaints received from individuals in other electoral districts

Complaints with respect to inappropriate calls outside Guelph were received over a longer period of time than was the case in Guelph. While some complaints were received during the 41st general election and in the months following the election, the Commissioner of Canada ElectionsFootnote 3 received over a thousand reports from complainants outside Guelph following the February 23, 2012, story in the media.

Some complainants reported having received either live or recorded telephone calls on or around polling day, which many recall as claiming to be from officials calling on behalf of Elections Canada, advising the call recipients that their polling station had been changed. In almost all cases, the purported polling station was farther away from the elector's place of residence and less convenient for the elector to reach.

Some complainants also reported having received annoying calls during the weeks leading up to polling day, typically at inopportune times of day or made in a series of calls to the same complainant, purportedly seeking support for a particular candidate or federal political party. Representatives of political parties and of candidates in whose names the calls were ostensibly made were subsequently contacted by Elections Canada investigators, and in most cases, the persons contacted denied making or being a party to such calls.

Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

As a result of the media reports of February 2012 and of the public debate that followed, the Chief Electoral Officer 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 Chief Electoral Officer reported that the number of complaints alleging specific occurrences of improper or fraudulent calls was near 800.Footnote 4 He also 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.

Other related events

On March 12, 2012, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion that reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, within six months, table amendments to the Elections Canada Act [sic] and other legislation as required that would ensure that: (a) Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened, to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act; (b) all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and (c) all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified.Footnote 5

From March to December 2012, 19 petitions were presented in the House of Commons regarding the events that took place in the 41st general election. Most of these petitions asked for a full and independent inquiry into these events while one called upon members of Parliament "to immediately enact legislation that would give Elections Canada the ability to restore public confidence in Canada's electoral process.Footnote 6 The Government responded to these petitions by first stating its agreement with the importance of maintaining Canadians' confidence in the integrity of the electoral system. It indicated its intention to conduct a broad review of the Canada Elections Act, taking into account, among other things, forthcoming recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer as well as those from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

On March 23, 2012, seven individuals made distinct applications to the Federal Court to have the results of the 41st general election in each of their respective electoral districts declared null and void, pursuant to paragraph 524(1)(b) of the Act. The grounds of the applications were that calls were purposefully made to electors who supported the candidates of specific parties to provide them with incorrect information about their polling site and that these were fraudulent calls that affected the results of the elections. The electoral districts involved were Don Valley East (Ontario), Nipissing–Timiskaming (Ontario), Winnipeg South Centre (Manitoba), Elmwood–Transcona (Manitoba), Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar (Saskatchewan), Vancouver Island North (British Columbia) and Yukon. The application contesting the election in Don Valley East was subsequently withdrawn. The case was heard by a judge of the Federal Court in December 2012, but, as of March 15, 2013, a decision had not yet been rendered.

Another application was filed in June 2012 by the Marijuana Party candidate in Guelph, contesting the election in that electoral district. The applicant alleges that the results of the election – that is, the number of votes cast for him – were affected by improper calls, purportedly from Elections Canada, directing voters to non-existent polling stations. The applicant is not alleging, however, that the respondent member of Parliament – whose supporters were also targeted by these calls – would not have been elected. The respondent member of Parliament filed a motion to strike the application on a number of grounds, including that the application was filed out of time. The motion to strike was heard by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on October 29, 2012. As of March 15, 2013, a decision had not yet been rendered.

Finally, on October 12, 2012, Bill C-453, a private member's bill entitled An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (preventing and prosecuting fraudulent voice messages during election periods) was tabled and read for the first time in the House of Commons. The proposed enactment would amend the Canada Elections Act to make it an offence, during an election period, to knowingly transmit false information, to falsely represent oneself as an election officer in voice messages related to an election, or to assist such fraudulent transmissions. As well, it would require that any registered party, candidate, third party engaging in election advertising or electoral district association provide certain information related to voice messaging to the Chief Electoral Officer or the Commissioner of Canada Elections upon request. It would further require that a company or other persons contracted to transmit voice messages provide certain information to the Chief Electoral Officer. The proposed enactment also makes it an offence to contravene these provisions. The bill has not yet received second reading.

Current status

The Commissioner has received complaints from more than 1,400 electors in 247 electoral districts, who report having received calls misdirecting or misinforming them with respect to their correct polling station, or calls they described as rude, harassing or annoying, received at an inopportune time of day or on multiple occasions. This includes 252 complainants from the electoral district of Guelph. The investigation is ongoing, and at the time the report went to press, no charges had been laid.

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.

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 The Commissioner of Canada Elections is a statutory officer responsible for the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act as well as the Referendum Act. He is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer pursuant to section 509 of the Canada Elections Act.

Footnote 4 This number reflects instances of alleged improper phone calls reported by electors, as opposed to expressions of outrage or calls for action. In his appearance of May 29, 2012, before the Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer indicated that the number of complaints regarding alleged fraudulent calls then exceeded 1,100. It now stands at just over 1,400.

Footnote 5 Canada, House of Commons, Journals, 41st Parliament, 1st session, no. 94, March 12, 2012.

Footnote 6 See the June 12, 2012, petition tabled by Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North).