CRTC slaps robocall fines on MPs, parties, telemarketer

The CRTC announced Wednesday that the NDP, Conservative Party of Canada, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Wildrose Alliance, RackNine Inc., Liberal MP Marc Garneau and Conservative MP Blake Richards are facing fines totalling $369,000 for their use of robocalls.

NDP, Conservative Party of Canada, Wildrose among parties fined

Robocalls have been the subject of controversy, as these protesters demonstrated on Parliament Hill, because of how they were used in the 2011 federal election. The CRTC on Wednesday issued fines to a number of parties for breaking the rules on how they are used. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The CRTC announced Wednesday that a number of political parties at the federal and provincial levels, the telemarketer RackNine Inc., and two MPs are facing fines for breaking the rules on robocalls.

The federal NDP, Conservative Party of Canada, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Wildrose Alliance Political Association, RackNine Inc., Liberal MP Marc Garneau and Conservative MP Blake Richards all violated the CRTC's rules on unsolicited communications.

Robocalls, or phone calls made with computerized autodialers that deliver pre-recorded messages, are frequently used for polling, campaigning and other political activities. They have been at the centre of controversy because of the 2011 federal election when misleading calls purporting to be from Elections Canada directed people to go to the wrong polling station in the Ontario riding of Guelph.

RackNine was the company used by whoever made the fraudulent calls. The case is still being investigated. Campaign worker Michael Sona is the only person who has been charged in the case. Nothing has been proven in court.

But last week, a Federal Court judge found that fraud, due to robocalls, did take place in the last election and that the information used to target certain voters most likely came from the Conservative Party's CIMS voting identification system. Judge Richard Mosley could not find enough evidence to implicate the Conservative Party or any Conservative candidate.

Conservative Party, Richards have 30 days to respond

The Wildrose Party, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the NDP, RackNine Inc. and Garneau have already paid the fines issued by the CRTC and they have given commitments that they will comply with and promote the rules in the future.

Other measures they have agreed to include:

  • The appointment of a compliance officer to ensure adherence with the rules.
  • Education and training programs for volunteers and appropriate compliance measures when using third-party firms to make calls.
  • Appropriate record keeping.

The Conservative Party of Canada is facing a penalty of $78,000 and Richards a $14,000 fine. They must pay or make representations to the CRTC within 30 days.

Fred DeLorey, director of communications for the Conservative Party, said in a statement that full co-operation was given to the CRTC, and "we appreciate that the CRTC is clarifying rules for all federal political parties and applying them across the board."

DeLorey said the party would pay its $78,000 fine today and work with the CRTC to make sure the rules are followed in the future.

When automated calling devices are used to deliver pre-recorded messages on behalf of political parties or candidates the CRTC requires that calls begin with a clear message identifying the person on whose behalf the call is made.

The call also has to include a mailing address and a local or toll-free number at which a representative of the party or candidate can be reached. Calls also have to display the originating number or an alternate number where the originator of the call can be reached.

The NDP's national director, Nathan Rotman, issued a statement saying the party apologized for not following the rules when it launched a campaign in January 2012 after MP Lise St. Denis ditched the NDP for the Liberals, and has taken action to ensure the rules are followed. The calls to people in her riding were to encourage St. Denis to step down and face re-election.

"The team made a mistake in one case, this is technology that we use literally every day," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said on Parliament Hill after the party's caucus meeting. "We didn't fight it, we just admitted it straight up, we've been fined ... fine's going to be paid, we're going to move on, we're going to make sure it never happens again."

Richards was fined for two calling campaigns in October 2012. He said his office hired a service provider to poll his constituents on their views on some legislation.

"It was my understanding that the provider was well-experienced with these types of surveys, and as such, it was reasonable to assume the provider would ensure compliance with all applicable regulations," he said in a statement, adding that he would work with the CRTC to ensure he complies with the rules.

Garneau was fined because of calls he made while running for leader of his party.

"I have fully co-operated with the CRTC in this matter and have personally paid the designated fine of $2,500," Garneau said Wednesday.

Trudeau says Liberals take responsibility for errors

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he's pleased the party itself has not been found to have broken any CRTC rules. Garneau's campaign "made a small error," and the MP has fully complied with the investigation and paid off the fine, said Trudeau.

"I'm proud that the Liberal Party continues to take responsibility for any errors it makes rather than spin and avoid and dodge the way the Conservatives do any time there's a question of responsibility," he told reporters.

Here are the details about the fines:

  • Wildrose: Fined $90,000 for six robocall campaigns between March 2011 and November 2012. The campaigns sought to determine voter preferences or opinions. The calls did not identify that they were being made on behalf of the party or provide a mailing address.
  • Ontario PC Party: Fined $85,000 for two robocall campaigns in September 2011. The calls were determining voter preferences and opinions. The calls did not provide the party's name, address and phone numbers.
  • RackNine Inc.: Fined $60,000 for 15 robocall campaigns for a number of clients between March 2011 and Feb. 1, 2013. The calls were on behalf of political entities and for polling, surveys, or political messaging. The political entities were not identified, contrary to the rules.
  • NDP: Fined $40,000 for robocalls made between Jan. 11 and 20, 2012 in the St-Maurice-Champlain riding. The calls did not specify they were being made by the NDP.
  • Marc Garneau: Fined $2,500 for calls made in March 2013 in connection to his Liberal leadership campaign. The calls identified Garneau but did not provide contact information.
  • Conservative Party of Canada: Fined $78,000 for a robocall campaign in Saskatchewan  from Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2013, related to proposed electoral riding boundaries. The calls did not say they were on behalf of the party.
  • Blake Richards: The MP for Wild Rose fined $14,400 for two robocall campaigns in his riding between August and October 2012. The calls did not say they were on his behalf or provide a mailing address.