Elections Canada raises new questions about Etobicoke vote

An Elections Canada report obtained by CBC provides new information about an incident that may have prevented voters from casting ballots at a seniors' residence in Etobicoke in Toronto during the last election.

Report offers different version of events at seniors' home poll in disputed riding

Conservative Ted Opitz, left, won the May 2011 election in Toronto's Etobicoke Centre by 26 votes, but Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj challenged the results over voting irregularities. (tedopitz.ca/Canadian Press)

No one disputes that during the last election in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre, a poll at a seniors' home was shut down and people couldn't vote for a while.

But there are differing versions of the event from Elections Canada polling staff and from the Conservative campaign manager who caused the shutdown — and now a third version from an Elections Canada report obtained by CBC.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the former Liberal MP in Etobicoke Centre, successfully went to court to have the May 2, 2011, election results in the riding overturned due to ballot irregularities. Conservative Ted Opitz, who won the riding by 26 votes, has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The seniors' home incident, which Wrzesnewskyj dropped from his case before it was heard, happened at the St. Demetrius Seniors Residence, a large apartment building in Etobicoke offering assisted living and long-term care.

Affidavits filed by three Elections Canada polling staffers at this poll, number 427, describe a Conservative named Roman who arrived at the poll in the morning and "suddenly started screaming and waving his arms wildly ... He was raging in a bullying fashion, which caused confusion, and frightened many voters."

But Roman Gawur, Optiz’s campaign manager, has a different version of events: "I remained calm and only raised my voice to overcome the surrounding noise in the room," he said in an affadavit filed in response to Wrzesnewskyj's original court filing.

Seniors' home rules

Elections Canada allows residents in seniors' homes to use the voter identification cards they get in the mail as ID, because they often don't have a driver's licence and their health cards may be held by the residence's administrator. However, their names must be checked against an official residents' list, and Gawur says he thought this second step was not being taken, so voting was stopped.

Through access to information, CBC has obtained Elections Canada's correspondence about the incident.

The timeline and notes reveal that the deputy returning officer at the poll gives a different reason about why Gawur wanted the poll shut down.

"The (D)RO reports that a candidate's rep has tried to stop proceedings at poll 427 because the rep does not believe that it is a registered retirement home and the vic [voter identification] cards are not acceptable ID," the report says.

That account is at odds with Gawur's own affidavit, in which he is clear that he knew that seniors in this home have a special exemption.

"It was explained to me that Elections Canada had decided, and all candidates had agreed, it would be sufficient for voters at poll 427 to present their voter card without presenting government identification."

The Elections Canada report says that at 10:02 a.m., Allan Sperling, the returning officer for Etobicoke Centre, "is trying to get details about whether the rep actually stopped the proceedings or is just being obstructive."

It also noted that the deputy returning officer called Sperling three times during the incident, and used the word "obstruction" about what was happening.

The poll reopened after about half an hour. A pause of that length in a long voting day might not have been a problem, but on this morning, a bus was waiting to take many of the residents for a day's outing to Casino Rama, an hour and a half's drive from Toronto.

Gawur and another Conservative scrutineers admit that some seniors may have not voted because the bus was leaving and they didn’t want to miss it.

Wrzesnewskyj says this particular poll had always been one of the strongest for him in Etobicoke Centre.