With just a week to go until B.C. goes to the polls for municipal elections, serious allegations of electoral interference have been raised in the province’s four largest cities.
On Friday, new allegations emerged involving claims of possible vote-buying in the cities of Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby.
A group called Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society is alleged to have used the Chinese social media platform WeChat to offer voters a financial “travel allowance” if they voted for certain candidates.
Richmond RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dennis Hwang said the city’s chief election officer referred the incident to police after being made aware of potential voter manipulation.
“Two allegations originating from the social media app WeChat are currently being examined,” he said. “All I can say is it’s involving possible enticements made to voters or potential voters.”
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On Friday, the City of Vancouver released a statement saying the allegations were not limited to Richmond.
“The City of Vancouver is aware of messages circulating on WeChat from the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society that appear to offer money in exchange for voting in Richmond, Burnaby, and Vancouver,” it said.
Calls and emails by Global News to the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society were not returned on Friday.
The vote-buying allegations threaten to further sour an election season already marred by election fraud allegations in Surrey.
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On Friday, Surrey RCMP offered an unusual update in the ongoing investigation into allegations of attempts to fraudulently use absentee ballots in that city’s election.
Police said of 73 applications made for mail-in ballots, 67 were found to be fraudulent because they weren’t completed or signed by the voter listed on the application.
None of those ballots were actually distributed to voters.
UBC political scientist Max Cameron said there is now concern that the alleged shenanigans could actually depress already-low civic election turnout.
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“It can feed into voter cynicism and the perception that elections are not free and fair, and that would be unfortunate because in Canada, we do have a history of free and fair elections, minimal fraud or irregularities,” he said.
“The allegations that we’re hearing about… are very worrisome, because they do suggest organized efforts, even if they are small scale, but organized efforts to actually buy and sell votes.”
In Vancouver, an estimated 44 per cent of voters turned out to the polls in 2014. In Surrey, it was 32 per cent, in Richmond, it was 31 per cent and in Burnaby, it was just 27 per cent.
— With files from Jill Bennett and Gord MacDonald