No charges laid in Alberta RCMP investigation into 2017 UCP leadership contest

Click to play video: 'RCMP say no charges to be laid in 2017 UCP leadership content'
RCMP say no charges to be laid in 2017 UCP leadership content
WATCH: The RCMP probe into the founding 2017 United Conservative Party leadership bid has concluded and no criminal charges are warranted. A massive investigation was launched after a 2019 complaint centred around voter fraud and a so-called "kamikaze" candidate. – Mar 8, 2024

While there were “suspected instances of potential identity fraud” in the 2017 United Conservative leadership vote, the Alberta RCMP said Friday there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges.

In 2019, the RCMP received a complaint about the alleged wrongdoings in the 2017 leadership race and voting contest to pick the new UCP leader.

The RCMP opened an investigation.

The first allegation was that leadership candidate Jeff Callaway entered the race solely to attack another candidate and planned to withdraw from the race and endorse Jason Kenney.

Elections Alberta investigated contributions to Callaway‘s campaign. In July 2019, Callaway was fined $70,000 by Alberta’s election commissioner for irregular campaign contributions in relation to the 2017 leadership race.

After 170 interviews and examining more than 25,000 related emails, the RCMP “did not uncover evidence to establish that Callaway or any other person committed any criminal offence,” RCMP Supt. Rick Jané said.

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“We would need sufficient evidence to allow us to know that there was no intention for a person to take the role of leader should they win the contest,” he explained.

“We found no evidence in our conversations and interviews — and we had co-operation from the candidates — that there was not a willingness to take on the leadership role had Mr. Callaway won the leadership contest and that’s very, very relevant to whether or not this would have been a fraud.”

The second allegation was that voter fraud occurred in the UCP leadership contest, particularly that emails were created in order to receive PINs and vote on peoples’ behalf without their consent or knowledge.

Click to play video: 'No charges laid after 2017 UCP leadership race investigation: RCMP'
No charges laid after 2017 UCP leadership race investigation: RCMP

The RCMP investigation found “several suspicious cross-sections of voters where multiple votes were cast from the same phone number, or originated from the same IP address.”

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“We generated a list of these suspicious votes, conducted interviews with more than 1,200 individuals, and examined their UCP memberships and registration forms,” Jané explained.

“While the Alberta RCMP determined that there were suspected instances of potential identity fraud, there was insufficient evidence to charge any suspect.

“Again, there was no evidence that any leadership candidate orchestrated these relatively rare instances,” the RCMP said in a news release.

Click to play video: 'Alberta RCMP say UCP race voter fraud may have happened, but not provable in court'
Alberta RCMP say UCP race voter fraud may have happened, but not provable in court

“Many of those votes that we’re talking about, those 200, we had clear evidence from the person whose identity was associated to that vote, had no knowledge or didn’t permit anyone to vote on their behalf,” Jané explained.

“There were multiple different mechanisms — sometimes it was an email address, the PIN was delivered, sometimes it was a phone system — and also how the vote was cast. It could be cast through a telephone, it could also be cast by logging into a website.

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“We have evidence to suggest there was potential fraud in the case of those votes. But it’s important to clarify that those matters have not been tested in court and there was insufficient evidence to lay a charge. And our biggest obstacle was being able to satisfy ourselves that we’d have sufficient evidence around the identity of the persons responsible — to prove that.”

Click to play video: 'New fines issued over funding for Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership bid'
New fines issued over funding for Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership bid

Jané said that the number of potential votes at issue — less than 200 — would not have impacted the leadership contest. Kenney won with 61 per cent of the vote — 36,625 votes.

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He added that there was no evidence to suggest there was a co-ordinated effort or group acting in concert to influence those roughly 200 votes.

“This wasn’t a widespread situation. There was no hacking — technical hacking — there was no use of foreign interference.

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“This was a situation where it appears that it is possible that in some cases that somebody obtained personal information that allowed them to register and receive a PIN to vote and then cast that vote,” Jané said. “And those cases, if they could be proven in court, would still be a very small, small percentage of the overall vote.”

“One of the things I think this investigation revealed is that it would be challenging for any one individual to orchestrate a very broad fraud… The offence mechanisms here would have made that very difficult to affect the outcome.”

Click to play video: 'Worries about UCP leadership vote raised 2 months before Kenney declared leader'
Worries about UCP leadership vote raised 2 months before Kenney declared leader

“Albertans can be confident that a thorough investigation, independent of government, was conducted,” Jané said.

“We did not have any reason to believe there would be interference and I’m very happy to say there was none — no pressure from inside the organization or outside the organization, from any level of government,” he said. “We were allowed to properly carry out this investigation based on the investigator’s decision-making and the tasks that were identified. There was never a ‘we need to wrap this up,’ ‘we need to end this.’

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“We did it until we felt that we could not reasonably gather any further evidence that would be material to our file.”

“We definitely investigated this — and that’s why it took the time it took — to the fullest extent that was reasonably possible and we did not have sufficient evidence to, in our opinion, lay a charge.”

He said the RCMP doesn’t normally speak on cases where charges are not laid but said this case is rare and important to all Albertans.

Click to play video: 'Alberta RCMP asked to look into 2017 UCP leadership race'
Alberta RCMP asked to look into 2017 UCP leadership race

In an email, the United Conservative Party said: “We welcome the closure of this matter, which has concluded without the need for any further action and found that the vote’s outcome was unaffected.”

Kenney shared a statement on social media.

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Jason Kenney statement on RCMP investigation into 2017 UCP leadership race, released March 8, 2024. Courtesy: X/Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney statement on RCMP investigation into 2017 UCP leadership race, released March 8, 2024. Courtesy: X/Jason Kenney

“We could not provide an update without referencing two individuals because of the nature of the way the allegations came in,” Jané said.

“It would be unfair and improper to leave the public with a false impression that we found evidence… We did not find evidence that they participated, counseled or were in any way organizing voter identity fraud, nor did we find anyone right in their inner circle that was involved in that.”

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Mount Royal University Policy Studies professor Duane Bratt says the update from RCMP was definitely warranted.

“This was a very important press conference to have. As the RCMP said, it is very unusual for them to talk about cases where they don’t lay charges. But they said this was of such importance, they needed to say why they decided to not lay charges.”

Bratt says that while the RCMP didn’t lay charges, that doesn’t mean everyone is innocent.

“The RCMP believed these allegations were founded, that there was enough reason for them to do this fulsome investigation and they did find suspicious activity but not enough to charge, because if you’re going to charge, you have to have a high certainty of conviction.”

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There were elements of both allegations that could still be considered unethical even if they’re not deemed criminal, Bratt added.

“They did point out Elections Alberta has fined Callaway tens of thousands of dollars … but that was a violation of Elections Alberta regulations, not the Criminal Code.”

He also believes there was something untoward going on with those roughly 200 suspicious votes.

“They couldn’t determine who those people voted for but there was something there, not enough to change the result, and they couldn’t connect the dots to prove criminal activity, but there was something there, that these were not unfounded allegations,” Bratt said.

He said this RCMP update will likely bring closure to some but others will likely remain unconvinced.

“Most Albertans have moved on. We’re talking about two elections ago and a leadership race. I think people that are suspicious of Kenney, none of this changes their mind.

“I’m satisfied that they found no criminal wrongdoing. I don’t know if others would. I still have a lot of questions.”

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