People in Ontario are receiving unsolicited messages from someone identifying herself as a member of the Ontario PC party.
The texts and phone calls ask if the receiver will support PC leader Doug Ford in the upcoming election, but according to Progressive Conservative sources, these texts are not coming from their offices.
CKWS spoke with Kingston resident Jenna Ayoub, who says she was contacted by an automated caller on Sunday just after 1:30 p.m. The caller identified herself as Emily from the PC party and asked if Ayoub would be willing to vote for Doug Ford if there was an election held within the next few months.
“I was curious as to how they got my phone number, because I’m not registered to any specific party,” Ayoub said.
She then saved the number of the caller and sent it to CKWS. When called, the number goes straight to a voicemail that says it is the mailbox of the Ontario PC party’s supportive services, and asks the caller to leave a message.
Many of the text messages accessed by CKWS follow the same pattern, and several are signed by a person who also calls herself Emily, who asks if the Ontario PC party can count on the receiver’s support in the June 7 provincial election against Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
The body of the text message then encourages the receiver to respond with, Yes, No, Unsure or WillNotVote.
The text messages were received in at least Kingston, Toronto, Ottawa and Peterborough, and come from different telephone numbers that are not valid when called back.
WATCH: PCs say mysterious texts are not authorized
When Siobhan Gillespie received the SMS earlier last week, she says it made her angry.
“I don’t like the idea of being solicited on my private cell phone by any political party,” said Gillespie, who has an unlisted number. “I certainly did not give the Conservative party permission to contact me in any form.”
Gary Bennett, the PC candidate for Kingston and the Islands, says he is baffled by the messages.
“It just seems unusual. We’re just trying to figure out who would be sending them out,” Bennett said. He added that he has been in contact with other candidates in Ontario and they said the same message seems to be going out province-wide.
Melissa Lantsman, a spokesperson for Doug Ford, sent a comment denying the text messages were coming from the party:
“There is no text messaging being used by the Ontario PC Party at this time. Our vendors have assured us that any and all communications on behalf of the PC Party are in compliance with the rules in place.”
The PC party did not comment on whether the automated phone calls were coming from their offices.
It is unclear how the numbers are being accessed, but recipients are not necessarily derived from a voter registry list, since Lucas Mulder, a 16-year-old from Kingston, also received one of these text messages last week.
“It’s kind of confusing why they’re sending this to me,” says Mulder, who is also worried about the privacy concerns of the matter.
“Where are they grabbing my number?” the teen asked.
Mulder says his mother, along with several other teenage friends, received the same text message, all apparently from Emily.
Patricia Valladao, manager of media relations at the CRTC, says that political parties are exempt from Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, and that electronic messages sent by political parties looking for donations are indeed legal. If they are not consumer related, then the electronic messages do not fall under anti-spam laws.
Vallado added if anyone suspects these messages to be coming from a fraudulent source, they should be filing a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
As for those worried about how their information is being accessed, Tobi Cohen, senior communications advisory for the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, says that political parties, except British Columbia, are also exempt from Canadian privacy laws — an exemption she says the office of the Privacy Commissioner has spoken out against before.
According to Cohen, the exemption of political parties is an “important gap in privacy law which our office has raised on numerous occasions.”
In fact, the federal government tabled a bill on Monday looking to require political parties to better protect and respect Canadian’s privacy.
According to the government’s website, if bill C-76 passes, political parties will have to outline how they collect data and what data they have collected, how they will use that information and whether it will be sold, among several other privacy concerns.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien wrote to CKWS in an email, calling the bill a “very small step forward,” and adding that “far more needs to be done.”
Therrien stated in an op-ed on the subject that in a digital age fraught with breaches of privacy, political parties shouldn’t be able to deal in Canadian’s data behind a legal curtain.
“There are also now — in the digital environment — so many more actors involved: data brokers, analytics firms, social networks, content providers, digital marketers, telecom firms and so forth.”
Therrien believes that political parties need an independent authority who will review whether parties are staying true to the law, something he says bill C-76 omits.
“That’s a significant shortcoming,” Therrien wrote in an email.