Robocalls trigger legal challenges in 7 ridings

The election results in seven federal ridings are being challenged in court because of robocalls that voters say tried to misdirect them to wrong polling stations.
Court challenges have been filed to contest the results of last May's election in seven ridings. Nine individuals are alleging the results were affected by voter supression techniques, including robocalls. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The election results in seven federal ridings are being challenged in court because of robocalls that voters say tried to misdirect them to wrong polling stations.

The Council of Canadians is supporting the legal action, launched by nine individuals, that was filed in accordance with the Elections Canada Act. The legislation allows any voter that is eligible to cast a ballot in his or her riding to contest election results on the grounds that there were irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices that affected the result of the election.

Steven Shryban, a lawyer who acts on behalf of the social justice group, said he believes those grounds exist in the seven ridings that are subject to the Federal Court challenges.

Shryban said the legal action is not meant to determine who is behind the robocalls, Elections Canada is already investigating hundreds of complaints, but to trigger byelections.

"The interesting thing about an application under the Elections Canada Act is that it really doesn't matter who may have stolen your democratic franchise, the object of the exercise is to get it back," Shryban said in an interview with CBC News.

When the robocall story first broke, the Council of Canadians asked its members to come forward with any reports of receiving live or automated calls that were harassing or misleading in nature. The organization said it received hundreds of reports, and now nine people are moving forward with the legal challenges.

The seven ridings are:

  • Don Valley East in Ontario, won by Conservative MP Joe Daniel by 870 votes.
  • Nipissing-Timiskaming in Ontario, won by Conservative MP Jay Aspin by 18 votes.
  • Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar in Saskatchewan, won by Conservative Kelly Block by 538 votes.
  • Vancouver Island North in B.C., won by Conservative John Duncan by 1,827 votes.
  • Winnipeg South Centre in Manitoba, won by Conservative MP Joyce Bateman by 722 votes.
  • Elmwood-Transcona in Manitoba, won by Conservative MP Lawrence Toet by 300 votes.
  • Yukon won by Conservative Ryan Leef by 132 votes.

The Council of Canadians said voter suppression techniques were used in all seven ridings and it has expert academic evidence that backs up the claim that those techniques affect voter turnout.

The group's executive director, Garry Neil, said at a news conference Tuesday that each case is different but most of the nine people received a call in advance of the May 2 election asking if they would be voting Conservative. Then either on election day or a few days before, they received automated messages that said the caller was phoning from Elections Canada and that due to higher than expected voter turnout, their polling station had been changed and a new location was given.

"It was definitely a co-ordinated campaign that involved misdirection locally," Neil said.

Peggy Walsh Craig, one of the applicants, also reported her experience to Elections Canada in early March. She has been interviewed by an investigator working on the robocalls case. Elections Canada currently is investigating a specific case in Guelph, Ont., but has received complaints from across Canada.

The voter from North Bay said she has heard of similar complaints from people she knows in her Nippising-Timiskiming riding.

The court can dismiss the complaints, but if it agrees with the applicants and finds there was fraud or irregularities, it could declare the results of the election in those ridings null and void.

An appeal of that decision would then go to the Supreme Court.

The legal challenges now filed in court come just days ahead of an appearance by the head of Elections Canada, Marc Mayrand, at a parliamentary committee. He will be testifying on Thursday about allegations of wrongdoing during last May's election.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.