Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Robocalls probe halted

OTTAWA—A three-year probe into allegations of fraudulent federal-election robocalls in 2011 has come up empty, with investigators finding no proof of an orchestrated scheme or intent to deceive voters beyond one pocket of southwestern Ontario.
Yesterday’s long-awaited report from commissioner of elections Yves Cote immediately was cited as vindication by the Harper government, which long has been under suspicion amid reports of non-party supporters being directed to the wrong polling stations in the 2011 vote that vaulted the Conservatives to majority power.

Opposition critics, meanwhile, say the report simply proves Elections Canada needs greater investigative powers—a point Cote himself stressed in his executive summary.
“Having carefully examined all of the evidence, the commissioner found no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence under the [Elections] Act has been committed,” Cote’s report flatly asserts.
His conclusion is supported by an independent review by Louise Charron, a former Supreme Court justice who was paid by Elections Canada for her expert opinion.
The release of the 32-page report comes against the backdrop of a bitter parliamentary battle over contentious Conservative changes to federal elections law.
Pierre Poilievre, the minister for democratic reform, said the findings prove the Conservative party ran “an honest and ethical campaign” in 2011.
“We followed all of the rules and we won fair and square,” Poilievre said yesterday before an unflinching speech defending his proposed Fair Elections Act.
“That is what we’ve been saying all along and those who’ve been making baseless smears ever since have been once again proven wrong in the process,” he added.
Cote’s investigation was separate from allegations of misleading robocalls during the same election in Guelph, Ont., where a young Conservative campaign staffer, Michael Sona, faces Elections Act charges for his alleged role in voter suppression calls that impersonated Elections Canada.
Despite tens of thousands of citizen complaints after media reports surfaced regarding the investigation in 2012, the commissioner said it all boiled down to 1,726 complainants in 261 electoral districts.
Of those, Cote’s team only was able to track the incoming call numbers for 129 complainants due to a variety of investigative impediments.
From that limited sample, investigators found “overall, no discernible pattern of misdirection.”
And while some people did receive misleading phone calls, that alone is not sufficient to press charges, the report concluded.
“There must be evidence of intention to prevent the elector from voting, or by some pretence or contrivance, to induce the elector to vote or not vote for a particular candidate,” it noted.
“No such evidence was found.”
Charlie Angus, the NDP ethics critic, said the message is clear: “If you’re obstinate enough, if you refuse to co-operate, if you drag things out—well, look what happens.”
Cote reported that at least one key witness simply refused to be interviewed while a number of unnamed persons and “entities” were slow and unwilling to assist investigators.

More stories