Elections Canada investigators are tracking complaints of misleading or harassing phone calls in 56 ridings during the 2011 federal election campaign, newly released court documents show.
The documents show exactly how widespread the investigation has become since it was first revealed that the election agency was looking into allegations of misleading phone calls in Guelph, Ont. The documents, known as information to obtain a production order, cover phone records for customers of Vidéotron in Quebec and of Shaw in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. A production order for Rogers hasn't yet been publicly released.
The phone records requested cover nearly one-fifth of Canada's 308 ridings. Elections Canada has said they are looking into complaints from 1,399 people in 247 ridings.
Elections Canada investigator John Dickson says in the Shaw production order that he believes the information will help him identify whoever made the calls.
He also says the agency got 99 complaints of misleading or harassing calls before the first media report last February. Once the news broke, the agency got another 1,048 complaints, not including the 252 complaints from Guelph. Some people reported both misleading and harassing calls.
'Not an isolated incident'
Of the 36 ridings Dickson is investigating — another investigator is looking at 20 ridings in Quebec — a Shaw security official said the same incoming phone number called "at least several" of the complainants on May 1 and 2, 2011, at least six times, he wrote in the production order.
There are complaints from another 217 people in 31 of the 36 ridings who weren't Shaw subscribers, he said.
The production order details what each person remembers from the calls, but shows the difficulty of trying to investigate what many wrote off as prank calls almost a year before they were interviewed.
One voter from Winnipeg told Elections Canada that he called back a number that showed up several times on his call display and thought that he had reached a call centre.
The man, whose name is blacked out of the documents, says the number was from an area code in North Dakota, where he has a relative, so he dialed it, thinking it was a call from the relative.
The call was answered, and while the recipient went to see whether they could find someone by the name he provided, the man says he heard the sounds of a call centre in the background.
"He stated that he heard people making calls with respect to voting and it sounded to him as though the calls were being directed mostly to the Toronto area. He said he heard people talking about carrier trouble and targeting Ontario, and he heard people mention Guelph and Thunder Bay," Dickson recounts in the document.
In the House of Commons Friday, New Democrat MP Craig Scott said what happened in Guelph was "clearly not an isolated incident."
"Conservatives can no longer pretend that this is just a few rogues in Guelph," Scott said.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre provided no new explanation, referring only to the party's co-operation with investigators on the Guelph allegations.
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett called for Conservative MPs in the ridings hit by allegations to speak up.
"Will Conservatives come clean to Canadians, or are they waiting for the RCMP to once again raid their headquarters?"
No interviews with Conservatives
However, the production order shows it's taking months for the party's lawyer to arrange interviews for Dickson. He first spoke with Arthur Hamilton on Aug. 7, in a phone call in which Hamilton asked Dickson to go through him with any requests.
"On Aug. 30, 2012, I spoke with Mr. Hamilton by telephone and discussed with him the issue of whether the Conservative Party or its candidate in several [electoral districts] noted herein made such calls. He advised me he would look into the matter and reply," Dickson wrote.
"On Sept. 20, 2012, Mr. Hamilton advised me he will put the request forward for a response. On Oct. 2, 2012, Mr. Hamilton advised me that he will attempt to arrange for me to speak directly with the appropriate campaign official. On Oct. 30, 2012, Mr. Hamilton advised me that he anticipates being able to facilitate such meetings in the near future."
Conservative officials have repeatedly denied any link to the misleading phone calls and say they ran a clean and ethical campaign.
The records were released as part of a Federal Court case in which six applicants, backed by the Council of Canadians, are challenging the election result in their ridings. That case will be heard Dec. 10.
The justice of the peace who granted the production order also granted Dickson's request to seal the names and phone numbers of the complainants he mentions in the document.
The case has drawn enough media attention, Dickson wrote in the request for the production order, that the complainants would "garner attention from the media and otherwise which could cause them to decide not to co-operate further with the investigation." It could also cause a chilling effect for witnesses who haven't come forward yet, he added.