The RCMP has executed a search warrant at the offices of an Edmonton-based call firm hired by the Conservative Party in the last federal election, as police investigate allegations of voter fraud in the growing “robocall” scandal.
Racknine Inc. is being asked to hand over any data, such as emails or billing records, linking it to the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., where the robocall accusations originated. Residents said they received phone calls directing them to the wrong voting locations.
The company has previously said they do not monitor outgoing calls ordered by clients.
They are also asking for all records related to a disposable “burner” cellphone number from Joliette, Que., also linked to the robocalls.
Earlier Monday, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion Monday that asks all MPs to help the RCMP and Elections Canada investigate the robocall allegations.
The Liberals and NDP are both claiming their voter turnout was affected by the calls, which wrongly informed voters that their polling stations had changed.
While the Conservatives supported the NDP motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied his party was involved in the dirty tricks.
“The calls in question are calls the Conservative Party of Canada placed to its own supporters,” Harper said Monday during question period.
“If the NDP has any information that inappropriate calls were placed, and we certainly have information in some cases and we have given that to Elections Canada, then I challenge that party to produce that information and give it to Elections Canada.”
The Conservatives say they are conducting their own internal investigation into the matter.
The RCMP and Elections Canada are looking into reports that automated calls were made in as many as 18 ridings. The opposition parties however now say as many as 34 ridings were affected.
It was also reported today that on top of the robocalls, there were phone calls placed by real people. The Toronto Star reported that callers on behalf of the Conservative Party were instructed to read scripts telling voters Elections Canada had changed their polling location.
Elections Canada said 127 polling stations were changed up until voting day.
Last week, Michael Sona, a 23-year-old Conservative staffer, resigned from his post at an Ontario MP’s office after his name was linked to the robocalls.
However, a source has told CTV that Sona is being “thrown under the bus” as he is not “tech savvy” and “couldn’t have done the robocalls on his own.”
NDP MP Pat Martin has dismissed the claim that the calls were the work of one staffer acting independently, however, telling CTV’s Question Period on the weekend that the calls were part of a deliberate, planned strategy to mislead Liberal and NDP voters.
“The really important thing is that 34 ridings — that we know of and the number are growing everyday — received these terrible phone calls advising people that their voting station had changed,” Martin said. “And they go trundling down to this phoney voting station — some may never come back.”
Allegations ‘incredibly serious’
Also Monday, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer rejected a Liberal request for an emergency debate on the issue, citing the investigations by police and Elections Canada.
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae said that in his mind, there is “no doubt” that the calls contributed to the defeat of some of his party’s candidates.
He also said the calls represent an attack on democracy.
“This debate is necessary because denying someone the opportunity to vote, is to deny them the most basic right that exists in our democracy,” Rae said in a letter to Scheer.
“These reports undermine the reputation of Parliament and cast a shadow over the legitimacy of all Parliamentary proceedings.”
Rae suggested Monday that the Liberals may attempt to have results in some ridings overturned.
In particular, he cited the riding of Etobicoke Centre, which he said “is being litigated right now, and will be in court at the end of April.”
In that riding, Conservative Ted Opitz beat Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj after a recount put the Tory on top by 26 votes.
Canada’s former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, said allegations of electoral misdeeds crop up all the time. But what is particularly worrying to him with these latest allegations is the number of ridings potentially involved, and the fact that it may be difficult to trace the person or persons behind the calls.
“Suppressing the vote of Canadians, attempting to suppress the vote of Canadians, the constitutional right to vote, I think that is incredibly serious,” he told CTV’s Power Play.
According to Kingsley, if the allegations are proven to be true, an individual or group can be charged under the Canada Elections Act with providing false information in an attempt to dissuade voters from going to the polls, or to convince them to vote differently than they had originally intended.
The charges can result in a $5,000 fine or a jail term of five years, he said.
In older for a by-election to be called, an elector in a specific riding would have to prove to a federal judge that the number of electors affected by the robocalls was greater than the number of votes that separated the winner and the second-place candidate.
“If you’re able to demonstrate that, the judge will say a by-election must be called,” Kingsley said.
“This is so serious that when the judgement is made, if you want to appeal that, you have eight days, that’s all. And then it goes to the Supreme Court of Canada directly, and they must deal with it expeditiously.”