Voter registrations missing in contested Toronto riding

Fifty-one voter registration certificates in three polls in a Toronto riding are missing from last May's federal election and Elections Canada has no record of them, an agency lawyer confirmed to CBC News today.

Former Liberal MP seeking to overturn federal election results in Etobicoke Centre

Fifty-one voter registration certificates spread across three polls in a Toronto riding are missing from last May's federal election and Elections Canada has no record of them, a lawyer for the agency confirmed to CBC News Wednesday.

Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj lost the riding of Etobicoke Centre by just 26 votes to Conservative Ted Opitz and is contesting the results before a judge in Ontario Superior Court.

When a potential "new" voter arrives at a polling station, a registration certificate is filled out by an election official and signed by the voter. The certificate records the voter's name, address and date of birth, and the voter's signature is his or her declaration of Canadian citizenship and affirmation of residence in that particular poll.

Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj is fighting the results of last year's federal election in court over irregularities in his Etobicoke Centre riding. Wrzesnewskyj lost by 26 votes. (Adrien Veczan/Canadian Press)

No explanation has been offered about why, a year later, the 51 registration certificates are missing. All that's known about them is that 51 voters were noted as voting by registration certificate in the poll books, which are records of what happened in each poll, but their certificates don't seem to exist.

One method of knowing whether the certificates existed at all is if the information on them was sent to Elections Canada's offices in Ottawa shortly after the election. But Elections Canada never received any data about the certificates, raising the question about whether the paperwork was ever done.

It's an important question because without the certificates, there's no way of knowing whether the voters formally declared that they are Canadian citizens and no indication that they showed identification to prove they live in the poll where they voted.

Emails outline polling confusion

A series of emails from the returning officer for Etobicoke Centre, Allan Sperling, relate his efforts to find out about missing or improper registration certificates.

At poll 31 in Westmount Park Church, which also housed three other polls, 16 registration certificates are missing. Moreover, the registration certificates that do exist for 70 more voters show that each of those voters was already registered to vote in another poll.

Although Elections Canada rules stipulate that a voter must vote in the polling division where he or she lives, Sperling says in one email that the registration officer for poll 31 said people "were allowed to vote at any table (poll) that was not busy. Since PD 31 was the closest to the door, many people ended up there."

Sperling wrote that the registration  officer also told him why some voters cast ballots at poll 31 although she knew they did not live there.

"Elderly voters who came to Westmount Park late on election day but were registered to vote at another location were allowed to vote there by (registration certificate) because they told her that they did not have the energy to go elsewhere and would just not vote. 'We couldn't have that' she said, and so decided it was better to let them vote at Westmount than not vote at all...," Sperling wrote.

Sperling also wrote that he tried to speak to the registration officer for poll 89, held at Wellesworth Public School, where two registration certificates are missing. "I have called the home of (redacted)... (the second registration officer at Wellesworth) several times but to no avail .... There has been no answer for more than two weeks and I have left messages to no avail." 

Nothing has been said in court to indicate that Sperling ever did find that registration officer.

If Justice Thomas Lederer decides at least 26 ballots were irregular and those irregularities affected the election result in the riding, he can declare the May 2 results void, which could ultimately lead to a byelection or an appeal that would be immediately heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But in closing arguments Wednesday, Opitz's lawyer Tom Barlow, suggested that if the judge were to reject any ballots perhaps he should adjust the votes according to an analysis of the polls in question. Wrzesnewskyj won most of the 10 polls handily.

Lederer reserved his decision.