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Questionable ridings included on list of robocall targets

A new twist in the robocall affair may throw in doubt the scope of the scandal. People involved closely in campaigns in at least two ridings identified as victims of harassing calls say they weren’t targeted, and have no idea how they ended up on the lists compiled by both the NDP and Liberals.

The opposition parties have been issuing lists of ridings they say received fraudulent phone calls. But a Liberal candidate in Ontario and a former NDP riding association president in Nova Scotia are scratching their heads, clueless as to how their ridings became linked to the ongoing controversy.

“There’s just no way that I can add any fuel to this fire, if there is a fire,” said Wolfgang Ziemer, who was the NDP riding association president in South Shore – St. Margaret’s, N.S. during the campaign. “I have no idea how the riding got on (the list).”

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Ziemer said he worked on the campaign full-time and never heard of any complaints.

But Ziemer’s campaign manager Marilyn Keddy said their official agent did receive complaints from voters who were called by someone falsely claiming their polling station had changed. The calls were reported to the local returning officer, she said.

The defeated Liberal candidate in Wellington – Halton Hills, Ont. also said the campaign in his riding was clean, despite the fact it was on the party’s robocall list.

Barry Peters said he doesn’t recall hearing about any suspicious calls either while out door-knocking nor back at the office.

The only explanation he can think of is the location of his riding.

“Guelph in the middle of my riding and its basically been ground zero since this whole thing came out so we are thinking it might be overflow as some residences in my riding have Guelph addresses,” he said.

The confusion speaks to the challenges the parties face as they respond to a mounting number of reported fishy phone calls. As the allegations pour in, parties are working to separate the facts from fiction, and figure out what happened leading up to the May 2 election.

The Liberals have a list of 27 ridings they are looking into. The NDP has confirmed misleading phone calls made in eight ridings and are investigating another 13 ridings.

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Elections Canada has linked phone calls, which lead voters in Guelph away from their polling stations, to a cell phone registered under the name Pierre Poutine of Separatist St. in Joliette, Que. The investigators obtained phone records showing the number twice called Edmonton-based call centre RackNine, which has links to the Conservative party.

Nothing yet in the Elections Canada investigation links the Conservatives to the deceitful robocalls.

RackNine has confirmed someone used its automated service to make phony calls during the 2011 campaign.

Other ridings are now scrambling to collect evidence of the calls they allege were made, but brushed off during the hectic moments of the campaign.

Markus O’Brien Fehr, the Liberal campaign manager for the Toronto riding of Willowdale said that during the campaign volunteers didn’t always keep meticulous records of complaints or reports of strange calls.

“We started to take some notes in terms of phone numbers and names, and passed those on to Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, so they could follow up,” he said. “For us on the ground, it becomes difficult for us to track these things down.”

O’Brien Fehr said the riding association is now planning to send an email out to supporters soliciting more information.

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While reports coming in from individuals are valuable, Elections Canada and the RCMP will likely focus any new investigations on ridings where they have hard evidence, such as recordings of the call, records from caller IDs, and financial documents, according to Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

“That gives them enough incentive to then expand it to request affidavits from those who received the calls,” he said.

Phone records and financial documents provide hard evidence that stands up in court, but sworn affidavits — especially those from call centre employees — would also be taken seriously, Mendes said.

“Affidavits are sworn statements and if they prove to be false it is potentially a jailable offence,” he said.

As Election Canada continues to investigate, the parties affected by the calls are trying to figure out the next steps. The NDP has even suggested a public inquiry led by John Gomery – the infamous retired jurist who headed up the investigation into the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

The Council of Canadians, a left-leaning advocacy group, also said it will support anyone applying to the courts, looking to have their local election results declared null and void under the Canada Elections Act.
 

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