Robofraud Backgrounder

May 2, 2011: Federal Election

May 14, 2011: Green Party of Canada wrote to Elections Canada to register complaints about electoral irregularities.

February, 2012: Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen reported that, during the 2011 federal election, misleading automated phone calls were made in the riding of Guelph Ontario using[a prepaid “burner phone” registered to “Pierre Poutine.” Subsequent articles identify 13 additional ridings where such calls were made.

March, 2012: Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told a parliamentary committee that the agency was investigating 800 complaints about calls which provided false information about polling locations or were harassing in nature.

March, 2012: CBC TV reported that voters in 31 ridings had revealed to Conservative Party candidates that they would not be voting Conservative before they received misleading calls.

March, 2012: Applications were filed in seven ridings alleging that “… fraud, corrupt or illegal practices affected the outcome of the election.” Don Valley East, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Winnipeg South Centre and Yukon. Each application was submitted by a voter who had received a misleading call. (The application from Don Valley East has since been withdrawn.)

April, 2012: A survey conducted for the applicants by Ekos Research Associates showed that Liberal supporters were four times more likely to receive a misleading call than pro-Conservatives. The Ekos poll concluded that the calls resulted in a one percent vote suppression (people deciding not to vote or being unable to figure out how to vote) in the target ridings – won by Conservatives with between 18 and 1,827 votes.

May, 2012: Court documents showed that Elections Canada traced a computer IP address used by Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager in the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ontario, to the “Pierre Poutine” RackNine account that paid for local robocalls, falsely directing voters to the wrong polling stations.

August, 2012: The Conservatives’ main call-centre company – RMG – rejected any suggestion that their company was used to make misdirecting calls, contradicting the testimony of a Thunder Bay call-centre worker. However, the company admitted that its script stated that Elections Canada had changed polling stations, ignoring instructions from Elections Canada to all federal parties that they not make such calls an despite the fact that few polling station locations were changed. In the six ridings involved in the legal case, only one location in one riding was changed.

May, 2012: The author of the 2008 book How to Rig an Election, Allen Raymond, who spent three months in an American prison for making illegal political calls for the Republicans, commented on Canada’s version: “The thing that stands out most egregiously is the number of ridings involved … This seems to be fairly systematic.”

June, 2012: Conservative lawyer Arthur Hamilton tried to have the COC cases thrown out before any evidence could be presented – arguing that they were frivolous and vexatious. The Court rejected that argument and awarded costs against the CPC.

August, 2012: The new Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Cote announced that Elections Canada had updated the number of complaints it had received concerning misleading election phone calls – but refused to share details in Federal Court about its robofraud investigations. There have now been more than 1,400 complaints in 247 different ridings.

September 18, 2012: The Harper Conservatives again tried to derail legal proceedings on the applications to overturn election results. They submitted a motion on “security for costs” seeking to force the nine Canadian voters who launched legal applications in March to post a deposit of $260,409 to cover the affected Conservative MPs’ costs – as a condition of the hearings proceeding in December. This ran contrary to the Canada Elections Act, which sets the security for costs for any applicant at $1,000. The Court again rejected the CPC request and awarded costs against the Party.

October 31, 2012: CBC journalist Evan Solomon interviewed Michael Sona, the former Conservative campaign worker from Guelph who was once identified as “Pierre Poutine.” Sona denied being the originator of misleading robocalls. “I’m not going to take the fall for something I didn’t do.” He noted that it wasn’t credible to think he could have coordinated such a “massive scheme” when he didn’t have the needed access.

November 20, 2012: Postmedia News revealed that in the days before the May, 2011 election, voters expressed their frustration with misleading calls from the Conservative Party. Emails obtained under the Access to Information Act showed that Elections Canada officials found the complaints from 13 ridings so serious that they contacted Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton. A day later, Hamilton responded, claiming the calls were being made to ensure Conservative voters got to the right polling stations. Elections Canada found this didn’t quite explain things, wrote Hamilton again, but got the same answer.

December 10, 2012: Federal Court begins hearing applications from eight Canadians in six federal ridings regarding robocalls and voter suppression.