Please see the letter below from Liberal Leader, the Hon. Bob Rae, to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer about the Conservative’s recent telephone campaign against the Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal. The Speaker of the House of Commons called this campaign “reprehensible” and the Liberal Party of Canada believes it may be illegal and in violation of the Canada Elections Act.
For Immediate Release
December 16, 2011
Letter From Liberal Leader Bob Rae to Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
257 Slater Street
Dear Mr. Mayrand:
Undoubtedly, you are aware of ongoing media reports about a recent telephone campaign that was conducted by Campaign Research Inc. on behalf of the Conservative Party in the constituency of Mount Royal asking residents if they will support the Conservatives in the upcoming by-election. As you know, since it is Elections Canada’s exclusive responsibility for issuing writs for federal by-elections, there is no by-election in Mount Royal and indeed the current member, Irwin Cotler, has publicly stated he has no intention of stepping down.
I would note that Section 92 of the Canada Elections Act explicitly states that, “No person shall knowingly publish a false statement of the withdrawal of a candidate.” While we are not currently in a writ period, it would seem this is an analogous situation, where Conservative operatives are conducting a campaign to deliberately misinform voters and, in so doing, are widely spreading information about that they know is patently false, namely a) that there is a current or imminent by-election and that b) Irwin Cotler has withdrawn and will not be a candidate.
I would note that the Speaker of the House of Commons recently reviewed that matter and recently found that while it was “reprehensible,”it did not, in his view constitute contempt of privilege that impeded Mr. Cotler from exercising his rights as a parliamentarian and therefore was outside of his jurisdiction to take further action.
Elections Canada is responsible for the supervision of the conduct of elections and ensuring that no one interferes with Canadians freely and fairly exercising their democratic rights. Since campaign activities in modern elections now take place well beyond the 36-day writ period, I am writing to see if you agree that activities taking place in Mount Royal could constitute a violation of Section 92. If you concur, in order to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and ensure these activities are not repeated in other constituencies, I would encourage you to forward this matter to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for the requisite investigation and possible prosecution. In the event that the matter is forwarded to the Commissioner, my office would be happy to supply that office with detailed and specific information about the alleged wrongdoing.
Further, in your role as Chief Electoral Officer, I would ask your view from a policy perspective as to whether you believe it would be useful for Parliament to consider amending the Canada Elections Act to make it explicitly clear that knowingly spreading misinformation that a candidate or officeholder has withdrawn is expressly prohibited – regardless of whether those false statements are made during a writ or at any time during the electoral cycle.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss it further.
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Office of the Liberal Leader