OTTAWA – A hard-hitting Federal Court ruling on fraudulent robocalls during the 2011 election should be setting off alarm bells in Parliament, says the former head of Elections Canada.
Judge Richard Mosley ruled last Thursday that fraud did take place “in ridings across the country,” although he failed to overturn results in six contested ridings in a civil case bankrolled by the Council of Canadians.
Mosley found no evidence that Conservative candidates or officials were involved in the fraud, but he did point fingers.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who spent almost 17 years as Canada’s chief electoral officer, said in an interview Monday that Mosley’s unequivocal finding of fraud was “really surprising.”
“What is equally surprising is that he said that fraud occurred through the use, by person or persons unknown, of the Conservative party databank. That’s where the bells go off.”
It’s against that clanging alarm that Marc Mayrand, Kingsley’s successor at Elections Canada, appears Tuesday before the House of Commons procedure and House affairs committee to make the case for urgent reforms to the Elections Act.
Mayrand wants tighter reporting rules on automated phone calls during election campaigns, penalties for impersonating election officials, stronger investigative powers and more protections for voter privacy.
The Harper government has long promised reforms, but suddenly delayed the legislation in mid-April on the day it was to be introduced, citing unspecified concerns.
Mayrand says time is tight if the changes are to be fully in place before the next federal election in autumn 2015.
The Federal Court ruling, said Kingsley, “certainly should bolster his case with Parliament.”
The judgment, hailed as a victory by the Conservative party and the Council of Canadians alike, concluded that the “most likely source of the information used to make the misleading phone calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the (Conservative Party of Canada), accessed for that purpose by a person or persons unknown to this court.”
Mosley then stated there was “no evidence to indicate that the use of the CIMS database in this manner was approved or condoned by the (party).”
“Rather, the evidence points to elaborate efforts to conceal the identity of those accessing the database and arranging for the calls to be made.”
So far, only Michael Sona, a junior Conservative campaign worker in Guelph, Ont., has been charged under the Elections Act in relation to fraudulent robocalls.
Kingsley suggested the judgment itself is not particularly helpful to investigators with the Commissioner of Canada Elections. They are still trying to trace hundreds of verified complaints of phone calls that the court found were designed to suppress the vote.
“It would be a lot more helpful if they knew who had access to the databank. Who had authorized access?” said Kingsley.
“It would be much more helpful if they had an inkling from the Conservative party that there was indeed someone from outside who broke in. There are ways of detecting these things, if this is what occurred.”
If the government sees any urgency to the Federal Court’s finding that its party database was used to commit fraud, it has not said so.
Tim Uppal, Stephen Harper’s minister for democratic reform, told the Commons on Monday that changes to the Elections Act will be made “in the not-too-distant future.”
Uppal, and Conservative parliamentary secretary Pierre Poilievre, did not once address the court’s finding that the party database was used in the fraud, despite repeated opposition questions on the matter.
Poilievre responded that the judgment showed “this ultra-partisan court action was thrown out because of a lack of evidence to overturn the democratically given results from the last election.”
He then went on to attack Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s comments on Senate reform.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he was “ashamed” by the government’s response in the House.
“If the Conservatives are serious, they’ll help us allow Marc Mayrand to get to the bottom of it,” he said. “Don’t hold your breath.”
Kingsley said there are still many unanswered questions in light of Mosley’s ruling.
“What it means is this goes beyond the one riding where there are accusations pending now … and that we must still find out about the 240 or so other ridings where robocalls took place,” he said.
“We still must get to the bottom of it. We have not gotten to the bottom of it.”
© The Canadian Press, 2013