Elections Canada probing hoax calls to voters

Elections Canada has launched an investigation into an election day telephone hoax designed to prevent voters from reaching the polls in three ridings in Ontario.
Some voters in Guelph, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo said they received phone calls, claiming to be from Elections Canada, saying that their polling locations had moved. (Courtesy of Elections Canada)

Elections Canada has launched an investigation into an election day telephone hoax designed to prevent voters from reaching the polls in three ridings in Ontario.

CBC News has obtained a copy of a fraudulent automated telephone message reported in Guelph, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo telling people their polling locations had moved.

"This is an automated message from Elections Canada. Due to a projected increase in voter turnout your poll location has been changed," says one message retrieved from a resident’s telephone voicemail system in Guelph. "Your new voting location is at the old Quebec Street mall at 55 Wyndham Street North, " the message states.

But Elections Canada said it’s a hoax, that the polling locations had not been moved and frustrated voters were left scrambling trying to determine where to vote.

"It is more than unfortunate. It is of concern that somebody would try to impersonate us and try to give false information to an elector," said Elections Canada spokesperson John Enright.

"I can tell you, Elections Canada doesn't even have telephone numbers for electors, so the calls would not have come either centrally from Elections Canada or regionally from a returning officer's office because we simply don't have that information."

Guelph resident James McLean told CBC News said he received a call purporting to be from Elections Canada.

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"I received an automated phone call that told me to go to a different polling station," McLean said.

But he said he quickly discovered the poll had not changed and he was forced to travel to the original location to cast his ballot.

"I was really angry when it happened," Mclean said. "You know, voting is a privilege, and it's a right. I feel like anyone that tries to create an obstacle to that — it feels like something that should be happening in other places but not in the Canada I want to live in at least."

Scores of reports

Elections Canada received scores of similar reports on election day from Guelph, Ottawa and Kitchener, including a number of formal requests for investigations.

"I was frustrated because all folks who are able to vote are trying to do is get to the polling station, and this is getting in the way," Guelph resident Dave Hudson told CBC News. "It made me feel like, oh no, this is starting to happen here. It sent a bit of a chill up my spine."

Hudson sent Elections Canada a copy of the voice message that he saved on his home telephone voice mail, and included it in a formal complaint.

"I expect you to investigate this fully and take whatever steps are within your power to hold those involved accountable," Hudson wrote to Elections Canada.

No one, and no organization has claimed responsibility.

CBC News has found no evidence of who is behind the hoax. When contacted, representatives for the Conservative, Liberal and NDP parties all replied they have no idea who is responsible.

The fraudulent message states: "If you have any questions, please call our hotline at 1-800-434-4456." But when dialed, the number plays a message indicating it is out of service.

CBC News traced the caller ID to an unlisted Montreal area code, which, when dialed leads to a recorded message:

"Pierre ???(inaudible) Uh oh. There's no room to record messages. Please hang up and try your call again later. Bye."

Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, who was re-elected last Monday night, said he believes the calls were a deliberate, orchestrated attempt to corrupt the election.

"We're not sure of the source," Valeriote told CBC News in an interview at his constituency office on Tuesday. "But it was an intentional effort to confuse the electorate and to discourage them from voting."

Elections Canada won’t comment on the specifics of their investigation but by law must issue a report within 90 days of the May 2 election chronicling all of the complaints and abuses reported during the course of the 2011 campaign.