A former Toronto MP who lost a razor-thin election contest in Etobicoke Centre last year says he is not surprised to hear of claims that so-called dirty tricks may have been used in dozens of ridings across Canada.
Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who served for three terms as a Liberal MP, told CBC News that he has long suspected that he wasn’t the only candidate who heard about suspicious events during the last election.
He has alleged in an application filed in Ontario Superior Court that there were "widespread incidents of mistake and error, voter intimidation and active voter interference" that contributed to the final result in Etobicoke Centre, in which he lost to Conservative candidate Ted Opitz by fewer than 30 votes.
In recent days, Liberals and New Democrats have reported that residents in up to 40 Canadian ridings received mysterious phonecalls during the election, some of which directed voters to the wrong polls on election day.
Those wider allegations have spurred the House of Commons to pass a unanimous motion for MPs to assist the RCMP and Elections Canada by providing "any and all information they have on voter suppression and illegal phoning during the last election."
The Liberals have said that Etobicoke Centre is among 27 ridings where "false or misleading" calls were reported to the party during the election.
While Wrzesnewskyj said the wider allegations being raised by the Liberals and New Democrats are "disturbing," he believed the alleged irregularities and incidents in Etobicoke Centre did not occur in isolation.
"Just by the nature of the allegations, it spoke to — potentially, if this is proven — to a meticulously planned-out system of suppressing vote," Wrzesnewskyj said in an interview on Sunday.
"And let’s be clear here, what we’re talking about. It’s disenfranchising Canadians, taking Canadians’ right to vote away from them in an incredibly underhanded way."
Wrzesnewskyj said he believes an inquiry may be necessary to probe what happened.
"I believe in our court process, we’ll be able to get to the bottom of a number of things, but this certainly requires some sort of commission, inquiry to be struck to look into this," he said.
"Because this is fundamentally about the confidence that the public has in our democratic system."
Recount confirmed loss to Opitz
Prior to the election, Wrzesnewskyj had served as the MP for Etobicoke Centre for nearly seven years.
But Wrzesnewskyj was defeated, finishing behind his Conservative opponent. The result was subject to a recount, but was upheld and Opitz became Etobicoke Centre’s new MP.
Wrzesnewskyj subsequently filed an application that seeks to void the result of the previous election in Etobicoke Centre and hold a byelection within six months of a court order.
When asked to describe the details of his allegations, Wrzesnewskyj deferred to the ongoing court process.
"I want to respect the court processes and that will begin April 23. The documents have all been filed with the court, so they are now public documents. Those can be looked at," Wrzesnewskyj said.
"But these were very serious allegations, as I said, of vote suppression and allegations of electoral fraud."
Wrzesnewskyj’s application claims that Elections Canada staff working in Etobicoke Centre during the last election made "numerous discrepancies and significant errors" that "affected more than 50 per cent of the polling stations during the vote and which impact on the integrity of the electoral process … and the victory of Mr. Ted Opitz since the votes exceed the margin of victory."
His application also claims that "there were irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices" that affected the outcome of the election, some of which he alleges involved individuals connected to the Conservative party.
Conservative staff say voting was briefly delayed
When speaking with CBC, Wrzesnewskyj said there was a specific case at a seniors’ residence where voting was shut down during "peak-voting time" and some seniors thus "lost their right to vote."
Opitz’s campaign manager has submitted an affidavit to the court, saying that he visited a seniors’ residence on election day where Elections Canada had decided residents would be able to vote without having government identification with them, as long as their names were on a "list of attestation."
When it appeared that elections staff were not aware of the "proper voting procedures for residents of the building," the campaign manager asked the deputy returning officer to clarify the matter with the returning officer.
Voting was delayed at the poll while this occurred, but was resolved when the campaign manager left the building at 10 a.m.
A man who served as a scrutineer for Opitz has also submitted an affidavit to the court, in which he describes being present at the same seniors’ residence for much of election day, aside from taking a lunch break.
The scrutineer said he told Opitz’s campaign manager that it appeared the "list of attestation" was not being checked by the Elections Canada staff, which prompted the latter’s conversation with the deputy returning officer. He said the delay in voting lasted about 20 minutes.
He also said that during the time he was present at the building, he did not "observe any behaviour by any person which caused a voter to leave the polling station and not return."
A third man who volunteered for Opitz’s campaign submitted an affidavit saying he did not attend the seniors’ residence on election day, despite claims that he was present and thus was not part of any alleged events that occurred there.
None of the allegations in Wrzesnewskyj’s application have been proven in court.