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Elections commissioner drops phone fraud investigation

The Commissioner of Canada Elections' office investigated possibly fraudulent election eve phone calls made in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding during the federal election, but will not pursue charges.

“Our investigator found no one who had actually been influenced in their vote because of the purported telephone call, nor was he able to identify the source or the person or persons who actually made the calls,” said a Feb. 12 letter on Elections Canada and Commissioner of Canada Elections letterhead from legal counsel John Dickson to one of the people who complained. “Our investigation will now be concluded.”

A March 2 letter from Dickson to executive members Paul McKivett and Sebastian Silva of the Liberal Party's electoral riding association for Saanich-Gulf Islands says the same thing.

On Oct. 13, the day before the federal election, residents received an automated phone message urging them to support NDP candidate Julian West. West had withdrawn from the race 20 days earlier, but too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.

Residents with call display said the call appeared to be coming from the NDP's riding association president, Bill Graham, but Graham was adamant the message did not come from him.

“In order to recommend charges in this matter,” Dickson's letter said, “evidence would be required to demonstrate that the recipient of the call knew the position held by Mr. Graham as well as his telephone number and that they were thereby influenced in their vote. In addition, evidence of the actual source of the calls and the person or persons who made them would be required.”

The investigator found no such evidence, the letter said, so the matter was closed.

“I just can't believe they couldn't find who actually contracted to do that,” said Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher. “I do not believe the Commissioner of Elections cannot find who was responsible.”

Conacher said the commissioner's office also appears to have made a mistake interpreting the law. It is irrelevant whether or not anyone was actually influenced to vote a certain way, he said. “The standard is not that you have to actually influence anyone. The standard is you have to attempt through any pretense to influence someone.”

A spokesperson for Elections Canada, John Enright, said the commissioner's office is independent of the agency, and investigations follow standards set out in the Investigator's Manual. “I can assure you all due diligence was done.”

Dickson's letter to McKivett and Silva said Elections Canada continues to review documents submitted by third party advertisers. McKivett and Silva had raised questions with the office about connections between third party advertisers and Conservative Gary Lunn's campaign.

“In the event that [the Political Financing and Audit] Directorate is of the view that any such filing requires further review and/or investigation, it is within the discretion of the PFAD to refer the matter to the Commissioner for his consideration,” wrote Dickson.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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