Editor’s Note: Sean Baird turned himself into police in late December 2019. On Sept. 8, 2020 charges of fraud and uttering a forged document against Sean Baird were withdrawn.
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward says a fraudulent survey during the 2018 civic election actually turned out to be a “silver lining” for her campaign efforts.
On Monday the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) confirmed they will be pressing charges against a Burlington man who violated the Municipal Elections Act.
Police believe Sean Baird, 47, is responsible for uttering a forged document, fraud over $5,000, and corrupt practice. Police say there is a warrant out for his arrest and his whereabouts are unknown.
“Baird broke third-party finance rules when he supported the campaign against the Burlington Mayor,” according to OPP spokesperson Carolle Dionne.
Meed Ward told Global News that the “outrageous” attempt to discredit her actually added fuel to her campaign in a positive way.
“People were like,’ I can’t even believe this,'” said Meed Ward.
“It was just so over-the-top and so negative that it actually turned people off. So, you know — silver lining. I was really proud of the community but it obviously generated massive concern and complaints.”
Meed Ward said it all started in August of 2018 when she began receiving calls and emails about a survey being conducted by a Toronto firm which allegedly involved the dissemination of various false statements that the survey claimed were made by Meed Ward; residents were being asked to rate their support for them on a scale of one to ten.
In 2018, she told Global News the statements had to do with hijabs, domestic abuse and employment.
“They concocted a quote-unquote survey that named me, targeted me with false information, and misrepresentation of things that I had written about as a columnist.” Meed Ward said.
The then-mayoral candidate alerted authorities, believing the survey violated third-party advertising rules since they were not registered as such.
“A couple of weeks go by and then all of a sudden a couple of numbered companies show up under the name of an individual called Sean Baird, who I knew through Downtown Business Association,” said Meed Ward.
Meed Ward says he allegedly registered as a third-party advertiser and took all of the information that campaign research had done on her and used it in a blitz of social media ads.
“Just negative. People couldn’t go online without hearing or seeing some negative dump about me.”
But that’s where the campaign seemed to backfire on the accused, as more and more complaints started to roll in from the negative messaging about Meed Ward.
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The messaging also caught the attention of the other candidates who began distancing themselves from the negative campaign. Mayoral candidate Mike Wallace was one of those who responded to the telephone campaign, assuring voters in a statement that he was not involved in the “quite negative campaign tactic.”
“Thankfully, the community was like, ‘this is ridiculous. You know, go after her on policy, disagree with her policy or her track record or have a legitimate debate in an election. Don’t character-assassinate somebody.'”
Soon after, Halton Regional police took on an investigation which was eventually handed off to provincial police in December of 2018.
Meed Ward says the OPP’s announcement on Baird’s charges came as a surprise as she found out about only a couple days before a statement was released.
“It’s very strange, you know — you’re happy and you’re anxious at the same time,” said Meed Ward.
“I mean, it was like an early Christmas present when I when I found out that those charges were being laid and that somebody was about to do something to safeguard our elections.”
Any person with information regarding the whereabouts of Baird are being asked to reach out to OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS); you may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000.