Fraudulent election phone calls raise more questions
From campaign workers to anonymous call centre employees, concern raised over calls
Even as MPs unanimously passed a motion calling on politicians of all stripes to give Elections Canada and the RCMP any information on fraudulent calls received during the last election, anecdotes revealing potentially more suspicious calls emerged across the country.
On Monday, the Liberals and NDP accused Conservative-affiliated firms of being involved in a scheme to deliberately discourage voters from casting ballots in the May 2 election. In some cases, the parties said, callers were misdirected to the wrong location to vote. Live and automated calls allegedly falsely impersonated Elections Canada or an opponent's campaign.
Conservatives have strongly denied any involvement or co-ordinated effort and asked for anyone with hard evidence to bring it forward.
Liberal MP Ted Hsu's Ontario riding association from Kingston and the Islands announced Tuesday that it has asked the chief electoral officer to add suspicious telephone calls to Kingston voters to the agency's investigation.
Liberals in Kingston are poring through their campaign notes compiling the complaints reported to them:
- Being woken at 2 a.m. by deliberately rude callers who falsely claimed to be from the Liberal campaign soliciting their votes.
- Calls on the morning of Easter Sunday when the Liberal campaign had in fact suspended all campaigning.
- Late-evening calls to elderly residents in seniors retirement residences.
- Calls on election day and advance polling days informing residents that the polling station marked on their voting card had been changed to a much more distant and incorrect site.
In at least some of those calls, the callers impersonated the Liberal campaign manager.
Hsu told CBC News on Tuesday that some of the calls were traced to a North Dakota call centre. "It's a little bit disturbing," Hsu said, referring to calls or potentially election resources originating from outside Canada.
"I probably should have [complained earlier]," he said. "Now I realize it's much bigger."
Hsu is reluctant to blame any opponent for the calls.
"Kingston's kind of a close community … we can't be too aggressive and too personal in these campaigns because we all have to live together," he said. "The nasty stuff probably comes from outside the riding where they don't care about relationships."
"I would not think of accusing my opponent of even knowing about it," Hsu added.
2 Edmonton ridings report calls
On Monday, the NDP pointed to two ridings in Edmonton as examples of NDP campaigns that may have been victimized by calls designed to dampen their support.
"From what I understand there were real people and robocalls," said former NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal, who ran in Edmonton Centre. "There was a concerted effort in confusing voters."
Calls from voters to Cardinal's office suggested people, particularly senior citizens, were confused as to where to vote in roughly the final two weeks of the campaign, because calls told them to go to places other than their usual polling stations. Some noticed the phone number coming from the 450 area code in Quebec.
The same area code was reported for automated "robocalls" which are now the focus of the Elections Canada and RCMP investigation into misleading calls in Guelph, Ont.
One former Conservative campaign worker in Guelph, Michael Sona, resigned from his position in Conservative MP Eve Adams's office on Friday. Misleading automated election calls placed to voters in Guelph falsely impersonating an Elections Canada official are now under investigation by not only the elections agency but also the RCMP.
So far, Sona is the only Conservative to be linked to any of the allegations countrywide.
Across town in the riding of Edmonton East, two voters complained to NDP candidate Ray Martin about calls purporting to be from Elections Canada.
Martin told CBC News in Edmonton that he didn't think much of it at the time, but now wonders if these reports were a sign of a larger campaign.
"I've never seen what seems to be an organized approach across the country the way it was in this last election, borrowing sort of the [U.S.] Republican Party's sort of hardball politics," Martin said.
"I'm very surprised," said his campaign manager John Ashton. "I've heard of voter-suppression tactics like this in the U.S., but … I can't believe here in Edmonton or in Canada."
In one instance reported online, a voter in Edmonton East says a complaint was made with Elections Canada based on what the voter felt was a "totally improper" call in which the caller identified himself as being from Elections Canada. Other individuals receiving calls from the same 780 area code believed it to be a Conservative campaign number.
Thunder Bay riding also received calls
NDP MP Bruce Hyer believes his Thunder Bay-Superior North riding was targeted with both automated and live calls.
Hyer was one of the incumbent NDP MPs who was torn between his own constituents' views in favour of ending the long-gun registry and the NDP's position in favour of maintaining it. (On Feb. 14, Hyer broke ranks with his party and voted with the Conservatives to end the registry.)
At least one of the automated calls came to his own home in the final days of the campaign, he said.
"I was in a hurry … so at the time it didn't strike me as being nefarious," Hyer said of the call telling him to go to a different polling station than he would normally use.
"I just sort of scratched my head and didn't think about it much, and now in retrospect I wonder if it was one of those [deliberately false automated] calls," Hyer said. "I'm a little uncertain as to exactly what it was."
Hyer said he heard from other people in the riding about calls they'd received directing them to the wrong polling station.
"For people to be illegally manipulating the election voting patterns and distract people from voting in a straightforward way is quite reprehensible," Hyer said.
A "Fire Hyer" automated phone campaign, which the MP describes as "not very sophisticated but very hard-hitting," was spreading some false and partisan information about his record as an MP, he said. Later, through traced phone calls during the election, his campaign found out these calls came from the U.S. states of Montana and Colorado.
Hyer believes it is not legal for this kind of campaign to originate from outside of Canada, and he and his staff have written to the chief electoral officer to pass on their concerns.
"I was very disturbed," Hyer said. He has yet to hear back from Elections Canada about his letter.
2 Ottawa ridings cite examples
Ottawa Liberal election worker, Kathy Mahoney, whose husband Richard was a former Liberal candidate, received a call misdirecting her as to where to vote. She reported it to CBC News last May.
"There should be a cost to cheating," Mahoney said on Monday, after hearing of the fresh allegations.
Anita Vandenbeld, the Liberal who ran against Conservative John Baird in Ottawa West-Nepean, said Monday her campaign received complaints about calls that were purportedly from the Liberal Party, but did not originate with her campaign to her knowledge, that were made at inappropriate hours and reportedly harassed voters.
"There has to be an investigation. I would hate to think that any political party would be doing this deliberately," Vandenbeld said.
More than 35 complaints of "harassing," "rude" or "obnoxious" live phone calls were reported to the Liberal campaign in Ottawa-Orléans, and passed on to Elections Canada by the Liberals.
"I understand that people were getting calls in senior citizens homes, for example, telling them to go to different polling stations when their actual polling station was in their very residence," past Liberal candidate David Bertschi told CBC Radio's Robyn Breshnahan on Ottawa Morning.
"Every vote counts," Bertschi said. "When we have anyone misled or cheated out of their right to vote it cheats everyone … it's about the fabric of our society."
Bertsci issued a press release late Monday evening asking voters in the riding to continue to pass on any evidence of suspicious calls. Various Ottawa media had reported unusual or improper calls during the 2011 election campaign in this riding.
Conservative MP Royal Galipeau, who won in Ottawa-Orléans, defended the integrity of his campaign and the volunteers who work for him on Monday. "My suspicion is that we're trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here. But gladly, the molehill is not in my backyard," Galipeau said.
"There are all kinds of people in this business who act independently," Galipeau continued. "Some volunteers get away from themselves. And it happens everywhere."
An anonymous call centre worker who worked for Conservative-affiliated firm The Responsive Marketing Group (also known as RMG) in Thunder Bay described to CBC Radio's As it Happens Monday her discomfort with the way she felt her fellow employees were asked to influence voters on behalf of the Conservative Party. They weren't allowed to say they worked for a call centre.
"This job was making me sick," she told host Carol Off. "You kind of felt that you were misleading people."
"This has such a huge impact on society as a whole. You're really doing something horrible," she said.
She said she and other workers took their concerns to the RCMP, but "they said they didn't want to listen, it wasn't their area, and it was now all over and done with."