The Conservative party is pushing a member of its national council to turn over emails and phone records related to his petition to force Erin O’Toole into an early leadership review.
In what his lawyer calls an “unprecedented campaign” to “thwart dissenting views,” Bert Chen has been asked to turn over all emails, phone records, text messages and social media posts connected to his push to oust O’Toole.
That means that any Conservative party member who spoke with Chen or supported the petition, launched less than 24 hours after September’s disappointing election results, could have their messages swept up in the party’s investigation.
“It is our view that this investigation is an unprecedented campaign by the Conservative Party of Canada to thwart dissenting views and oust those party members who disagree with the leadership of the party,” wrote Scott Hamilton, who is representing Chen, in a statement to Global News.
Chen, an elected member of the Conservative party’s national council, was suspended for 60 days last month after spearheading a petition to hold an early leadership review. Chen accused O’Toole of betraying conservative values in a failed attempt to win power in September’s general election.
As it stands, Conservative party faithful will not have a chance to pass judgment on O’Toole’s leadership until 2023. Chen’s petition would have forced the issue much earlier.
According to the party, the 60-day suspension was the result of unspecified complaints from “grassroots … members” suggesting Chen had violated the council’s code of conduct, as well as the party constitution.
Global News has obtained a copy of a letter sent by Arthur Hamilton, the party’s longtime lawyer, detailing a sweeping investigation into Chen’s suspension. Chen did not comment when contacted by Global News, and instead deferred to his lawyer.
In addition to combing through Chen’s party email account, which the party controls, the party requested all personal email and telephone records detailing Chen’s conversations with other party activists — including texts and social media messages.
The letter also suggested Chen reveal any “special interest, pressure, advocacy or public interest group” connected to his petition to force a leadership review, without giving any hints to what third-party groups the party has in mind.
Global News sent a detailed questions to the Conservative party, including why the party needed such extensive records related to Chen’s petition, when the investigation was supposedly into a complaint about his conduct.
Global News also asked about the privacy concerns of those party members who communicated with Chen, and whether the party has any evidence “special interests” were involved.
In a written statement, Conservative party president Rob Batherson said it would be inappropriate to comment on “any aspect” of the party’s investigation.
“Following complaints from grassroots Conservative Party members that Bert Chen violated the National Council Code of Conduct and the Constitution of the Conservative Party, National Council determined to suspend Bert Chen and investigate these serious allegations,” the statement read.
Chen, a national council representative for Ontario, launched a petition within 24 hours of September’s federal election to force O’Toole to face a leadership review before the party’s 2023 convention. In media interviews and social media posts, Chen said party members felt O’Toole betrayed Conservative values through a perceived push to the political centre.
Batherson announced on Oct. 13 that Chen was suspended from national council for 60 days while the party investigated unspecified complaints about his conduct.
In a Facebook post, Chen called the suspension an attempt at silencing “Conservative members that have lost confidence in the leadership of Erin O’Toole,” who he accused of “selling out (conservative) beliefs for a failed attempt at power.”
Hamilton’s letter suggested national council was not pleased with Chen speaking out. The letter asks Chen to explain “why you believe it is appropriate, as a member of National Council, to engage with the media, including making (for-attribution) comments?”
“(Explain in) particular, why you issued a statement after the motion was passed by National Council to suspend you, even though you were aware that one of the points raised regarding the suspension was your unilateral engagement with the media,” the letter read.
The letter went on to request that Chen refrain from “unilateral messaging” in the media, should he be reinstated.
— with a file from the Canadian Press.