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Citizens Group to Launch Private Prosecution over Robocalls

Democracy Watch says if federal authorities won't seek action, it will.

Jeremy Nuttall 23 Jul 2015TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

His coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders. Please consider joining.

A citizens' group says it will launch a private prosecution of Conservative party officials that it claims were implicated but never charged in the infamous robocalls scandal of 2011.

Democracy Watch aims to fundraise $35,000 to prosecute the officials, who will be named when an official court case is filed, the group said.

Last year, Conservative party staffer Michael Sona was sentenced to nine months for election fraud involving robotic phone calls made to voters in Guelph, Ont. Some of the calls gave voters misleading information on where to vote.

Sona was the only one ever charged, but a judge in the case said there were others related to his case involved.

The Commissioner of Elections Canada, Yves Côté, said the agency investigated two cases of robocalls across the country, and while one led to the prosecution of Sona, the other did not find evidence to warrant further charges.

"Barring any new information that comes to our attention, the commissioner considers those investigations to be closed," said commissioner's office spokeswoman Michelle Laliberte.

'They were warned'

But Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher claims Côté let Conservative officials off the hook, despite the commissioner's own investigation.

That investigation determined that Conservatives knowingly arranged for robocalls in more than one riding that misled voters about polling locations.

But Côté did not refer the case to prosecutors, saying the intent of the robocalls could not be proven.

Conacher said he doesn't buy that argument. "They were warned not to [call about polling locations] by Elections Canada. They went ahead and did it anyway," he said.

Once Democracy Watch files its prosecution, it could be stopped by the director of public prosecutions or the attorney general.

Conacher points out that the attorney general is a Conservative minister, while the director is selected by the government.

He said he isn't sure if they will put a stop to the case, because he said neither could reasonably argue a conviction is not possible.

It would also be a bad public relations move, he said.

"We are hoping they will still prosecute," he said. "I don't know what they'll do."  [Tyee]

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