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Ontario bogus call investigation more successful than earlier BC case

Elections Canada's success finding the source of illegal phone calls in Ontario is a reminder the agency abandoned its investigation into a similar incident in British Columbia in 2008.

Automated phone calls in Guelph ahead of the 2011 election pretended to be from Elections Canada and directed voters to non-existent or incorrect polling stations, which caused confusion and may have prevented some people from voting.

Elections Canada was able to trace the calls to an Edmonton company called Racknine Inc. using a method the Montreal Gazette describes in detail. It included tracing calls and subpoenaing phone company records.

The story quoted an anonymous source familiar with the investigation: "It's important to put in the record that if you make evil phone calls, there's a straightforward way of identifying the placement . . . Any long distance call, there's a record of it. So you can't call 100,000 people and tell them not to vote."

The Ottawa Citizen and the NDP opposition noted that Racknine has done work for various Conservatives, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though there is no evidence the Conservative's were involved in the illegal calls.

During the 2008 election, there was an outcry in Saanich-Gulf Islands when a call went to residents the evening before the election encouraging them to vote for an NDP candidate who had dropped out of the race but whose name remained on the ballot.

The message appeared to recipients with call display to be coming from a fax number belonging to NDP riding association Bill Graham, but he said he did not place the call and had already sent a letter to NDP members saying the association was not backing any of the remaining candidates. *

Elections Canada investigated, but dropped the case saying it could not find evidence of the actual source of the calls or who had made them. A Telus spokesperson said it is difficult and "not always possible" to trace the origin of a call.

Conservative Gary Lunn beat Liberal Briony Penn by some 2,600 votes in the riding. The withdrawn NDP candidate received 3,667 votes, despite not running a campaign.

In 2011 Lunn lost to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said he could not immediately say why the Guelph situation was different from the Saanich-Gulf Island case, but that he would review the file and respond tomorrow.

* Paragraph clarified, 5 p.m. March 1, 2012.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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