Calgary city councillors are calling for a list of electors to not go out to candidates for this fall’s municipal election.
Concerns about how such a list might be used were raised Monday morning online and in a council meeting.
But such a list doesn’t yet exist.
Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who is also running for mayor, tweeted the city is facing a “dangerous prospect” this election.
“A candidate who has threatened violence against AHS (Alberta Health Services) will be given a voter list with Calgarians’ home addresses and phone numbers,” Gondek wrote.
She called on Elections Calgary to not release a voter list to any candidate.
“It will make our election campaigns more challenging, but it will protect Calgarians,” Gondek concluded. “That should be our first job as candidates and elected officials.”
Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell asked the city’s legal department if council can direct that the list not go to a specific candidate or if it’s an all-or-none distribution.
Late Monday, Kate Martin, the city’s returning officer, revealed that a register — or list — of electors can be compiled from the provincial voter registry under the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA), on direction from city council and enacted by a city bylaw.
“As of the current date, council has not directed the returning officer to prepare a list of electors for the 2021 general election,” Martin said.
Those lists include names, phone numbers, addresses and whether the person is a public or separate school resident.
Martin said the city’s election bylaw was changed in 2018, and a directive to compile the list is not in the new bylaw.
“(The new bylaw) does not have a provision requiring a list of electors similar to that which was in (the previous bylaw) and enforced in the last municipal election,” Martin said.
Ahead of October’s election, city council has not told the returning officer to start making that list.
“We’re going to spend a week just thinking about what other options are and come back to (priorities and finance) committee next week,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
“It’s the job of our administration to protect those people willing to participate in the democratic process,” Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said.
Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart expressed her hope that the returning officer would work in concert with the legal department, saying “citizens have concerns about their privacy and how the data is used in this day and age.”
Jill Floen, city solicitor and general counsel, said she would take those comments on herself, given the returning officer’s status as an independent officer.
Gondek also called on the minister of Municipal Affairs to step in, since the city has no authority under LAEA to prohibit the candidate.
As of press time, Minister Ric McIver did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Elections Calgary, the voters list is released the day after registration day — Sept. 22, 2021 this year — and “allows candidates to engage with voters for campaign purposes.” Created lists are provided to candidates upon request.
Using the list for non-campaign purposes can land a person with up to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.
Targeting AHS employees
The concerns around releasing lists to candidates stem around comments from far-right social media personality Kevin J. Johnston that target AHS inspectors.
Johnston is also registered as a mayoral candidate.
“When you have a candidate who is currently facing charges for, frankly, violent assault and you have a candidate who has been openly threatening people, then you’ve got to make sure that we’re looking out for the safety of citizens and for the safety of other candidates as well,” Nenshi said.
In online streams, Johnston, a staunch COVID-denier, posted photos and personal information of AHS personnel, calling on his viewers to document further AHS employees.
“To all AHS members who decided they wanted to enter peoples’ properties: the day that I am mayor of Calgary, you’re all going to be in handcuffs,” Johnston said on the web stream. “I’m coming for you all.
“And if SWAT won’t come, it’s simple: I’ll arm myself and I’ll come right to your doors and I’ll come and get you.”
In an interview with Global News Monday, Johnston claimed that AHS is “in contravention of the law.”
AHS is currently acting on public health orders from the Alberta government.
Johnston said that he will order Calgary Police Service members to arrest AHS employees if he is elected as mayor.
When previously asked about whether the mayor would direct CPS to arrest anti-mask protesters, Nenshi stressed the importance of police being able to do their work without political interference.
In a statement to Global News, the Calgary Police Service said its job is to “enforce laws and make decisions based on evidence, not direction from elected officials.”
“Independent citizen police commissioners are in place across Canada to create a deliberate separation between elected officials and police to prevent this very type of political influence,” the statement said.
“The Calgary Police Commission is responsible for overseeing the Calgary Police Service as outlined in the Alberta Police Act.”
Johnston also confirmed that he has requested members of the public to report private, personal information of AHS employees to him.
“I want my fanbase out there to find their names and addresses now so that we can file a lawsuit now before the election happens,” Johnston said.
In an online video, Johnston planned to release the personal information of AHS employees in legal papers.
“When I put it into a lawsuit, it’ll be on the first page. And that lawsuit, that I can give to anybody because that’s a public document,” the mayoral hopeful said. “So it is legal to dox somebody and that’s exactly how we’re going to do it.”
He did not elaborate on what his followers could do with the information he would make public.
Merriam-Webster defines “dox” as “to publicly identify or publish private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge.”
In a statement to Global News, an AHS spokesperson said they “take threats made against our staff seriously.”
“We work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure our staff are safe and supported.”
CPS said they are working with the city to determine if there is a way to limit the disclosure of personal information on voter lists.
“If the disclosure goes ahead, we are deeply concerned that the personal information of our members, and others in the community, will be distributed to candidates running for office,” a statement from CPS reads. “Our members, along with those of our partner agencies, are at considerable risk of harassment and retaliation from those in the community who may choose to harm them and their families.”
The CPS said it is “especially concerning if a mayoral candidate has ill intentions and has expressed a desire to cause harm.”
Johnston said he is aware of the penalties for misuse of the voters list, saying he doesn’t want to be arrested “for doing something stupid with personal information.”
Shortly after interviews with Global News and CBC, Johnston published reporters names, email addresses and phone numbers online.
A history of criminal charges
Johnston is currently facing two Criminal Code charges in two different provinces.
In B.C., Dawson Creek RCMP arrested and charged Johnston with assault on March 25 at a local No Frills grocery store, where police attended for a report of a disturbance.
“Investigation determined that a group of individuals had entered the establishment without face masks as per the current Provincial Health Order and created a disturbance for which they were asked to leave by multiple employees,” the RCMP report reads.
“An employee followed the group to the parking lot to collect licence plates for a subsequent report to police. During an altercation between the employee and the subjects, one of the subjects punched the employee in the face.”
According to B.C. provincial court records, Johnston has had two court appearances regarding the charges and has another on May 18.
On July 27, 2017, Peel Regional Police arrested Johnston, charging him with a hate-motivated crime. Peel Police said the arrest was the “result of a lengthy investigation into numerous incidents reported to police,” and resulted in a charge of willful promotion of hatred under the Criminal Code.
A 2019 decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson ordered Johnston to pay $2.5 million in damages for defamation to Mohamed Fakih, a chain grocery specializing in middle eastern foods.
The decision stems from anti-Muslim content posted on Johnston-operated websites like “Freedom Report.”
Johnston admitted that while living in Ontario, he had been “stuck in the court system 146 times in three years.”
’A very dangerous individual’
MRU political science professor Duane Bratt called Johnston a “very dangerous man.”
“This is a man capable of violence, this is a person capable of inciting violence,” Bratt told Charles Adler.
Bratt has been aware of Johnston for more than five years and said Johnston’s recent comments “sounded criminal.”
“Someone’s going to get hurt here,” Bratt said. “This is a very dangerous individual.”
Bratt brought up the trial against GraceLife Church pastor James Coates and the fact that AHS officials and the Crown prosecutor got permission to not list their names due to death threats.
Johnston attended a large protest outside the church in Parkland County, west of Edmonton, on April 11.
Johnston also said on a stream that he’s “good friends” with Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, who CPS arrested Saturday following a Court of Queen’s Bench order obtained by AHS for mandatory compliance of public health orders for gatherings.
The upcoming election
Candidates running for mayor can register with Elections Calgary after collecting just 100 signatures and paying the $500 registration fee.
According to Elections Calgary, candidates become ineligible on nomination day, Sept. 21, if they are:
- City employees, or employees of school divisions, private schools or charter schools, who have not taken a leave of absence for their campaign
- If they have more than $50 in past taxes due to the city
- If they have been convicted of an offence under the LAEA, the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act or the Canada Elections Act in the last decade
Johnston previously ran for mayor in Mississauga, ON, twice. In 2018, he came in second with 13 per cent of the vote.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie won that election with nearly 77 per cent of the vote. In 2014, Johnston only garnered 0.46 per cent of the vote and came in eleventh — an election Crombie won with more than 63 per cent of votes.
Calgarians go to the polls on Oct. 18.