Marketing firm's calls in Cotler's riding lead to complaints

Calls that falsely told Irwin Cotler's constituents he was stepping down have led to complaints to the industry group that represents market research firms.

Industry group looking at Campaign Research

Phone calls that falsely told Irwin Cotler's constituents he was stepping down have led to complaints to the industry group that represents market research firms. (CBC)

The industry group that represents market research firms says it has received three formal complaints in two days about calls falsely telling residents of Montreal's Mount Royal riding that MP Irwin Cotler was stepping down.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association has gotten 10 informal queries, or phone calls and emails, about the issue, which have so far led to three formal complaints against Campaign Research, the marketing firm behind the calls, executive director Brendan Wycks said Friday.

Cotler complained several times in the House of Commons that his constituents were getting calls saying there was an impending byelection and asking whether they would support a Conservative candidate. He says the calls were traced back to Campaign Research.

Conservative MPs defended the calls, arguing they were a matter of free speech and that there was a rumour Cotler might step down. The 71-year-old MP, a human rights advocate, was re-elected last May and says he has no plans to resign.

The first queries to the industry association came Wednesday, Wycks said, and seemed to be a response to a ruling by House Speaker Andrew Scheer that the issue was outside his authority.

One of the complaints is from another member firm, he said.

Calls called 'despicable'

Marian Levy, who was one of the people to send an email inquiry to Wycks, said she was spurred to complain because the calls were "despicable."

Levy said she has no agenda, but knows from experience that the script opened by saying there was an upcoming byelection — something the Conservatives deny.

Levy also saw a report in the media where Wycks said a script provided to the association had no mention of a byelection.

"I think at a certain point you have to keep standing up and saying, no, this is wrong. And for no other reason than that all of this is just plain wrong," she said.

Levy's email recounts having to argue with the caller over whether there was a byelection in Mount Royal. She said she even asked the caller which riding they thought they were calling, and they confirmed they were talking about Mount Royal.

Levy wouldn't say whether she supports the Liberals or Conservatives, but said she follows politics.

"I don’t think it has anything to do with whether I'm a Liberal supporter or a Conservative supporter. It has to do with dishonesty and it has to do with dirty politics, and it has to do with inappropriate behaviour, and it has to do with going against a man whose integrity and honesty [make him] without question one of the finest people in the world. It really has nothing to do with whether I am Liberal or Conservative," she said.

Campaign Research has 30 days to try to resolve the complaints to the mutual satisfaction of the company and the complainant, as well as to Wycks's satisfaction, Wycks said.

Campaign Research couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

If that doesn't work, the group strikes a complaint panel of three senior members of the association who don't have a conflict of interest with the company at issue, and can recommend one of three options: censure, membership suspension or expulsion.

The association is a voluntary, self-policing group.