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Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors


The recommendations made in this report are aimed at better addressing the risks posed by deceptive tactics to Canada's electoral democracy. While Elections Canada can take some administrative measures to prevent the kind of conduct discussed in the report from occurring again, Parliament's intervention is required to make legislative changes that will allow the agency to promptly and effectively investigate potential abuses of the electoral process.

While 80% of Canadians who gave their opinion in the Phoenix survey said they had quite a lot (48%) or a great deal (32%) of confidence in Elections Canada,Footnote 81 it can be expected that this level of confidence will decrease if significant delays in investigations (let alone a lack of results) occur following repeated perceived egregious violations of the Canada Elections Act. Similarly, actions must be taken to increase Canadians' level of confidence regarding the vital role played by political parties in our electoral democracy. The recommendations contained in this report aim to address these two issues.

In our view, some of these recommendations are of particular importance in this context.

The authority of the Commissioner of Canada Elections to compel witnesses to testify or to produce documents with prior judicial authorization would go a long way in accelerating the investigation process, particularly at the start, when facts need to be clarified. This is a vital tool in the application of regulatory provisions, and one that already exists in federal legislation. The Commissioner strongly supports this recommendation.

As well, we share the view of Canadians and of the experts we consulted in the preparation of this report that political parties should be required to pay greater attention to the protection of electors' personal information. There do not appear to be any public policy reasons for excluding political parties from the application of the privacy protection principles governing most Canadian institutions and organizations. These principles should be extended to political parties. This could be accomplished through an assurance provided by an external management auditor. However, regardless of the means chosen, the application of these principles should be a pre-condition to the party continuing to receive lists of electors from Elections Canada.

Other recommendations have also been made to deal with the particular issue of communications with electors. They include the addition of a new offence prohibiting anyone from impersonating an election official. As well, the Commissioner should have the authority to require telecommunications companies to preserve specified records pending receipt of a production order. Political entities should also be required to provide timely information regarding their contractual arrangements with telecommunications, Internet service and telemarketing service providers, to the extent that these arrangements are to be in effect during election periods. Finally, in line with the motion adopted by the House of Commons in March of 2012, we reiterate the recommendation made in our previous recommendations report that, upon request from the Chief Electoral Officer, political parties be required to produce all documents necessary to ensure compliance with the Act.

Means must be given to Elections Canada to address deceptive practices such as those that occurred during the 41st general election. These practices undermine the electoral process, to the detriment of all participants. In this context, however, it is important to keep in mind that legislative measures alone cannot prevent improper conduct from taking place. All participants in the electoral process have a responsibility to act in a manner that respects and promotes democratic values and the rule of law.

Footnote 81 Phoenix, Survey of Electors, p. 26.