Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Judge's ruling on suspect votes forces byelection in Ontario

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TORONTO -- Enough suspect votes were cast due to clerical errors to warrant overturning last year's federal election result in a Toronto riding, an Ontario judge said in an unprecedented ruling Friday.

The rare decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Lederer upends the narrow 26-vote win by Conservative Ted Opitz over former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj and means a byelection will have to be called if the ruling stands.

Lederer made it clear the voting irregularities -- essentially clerical errors -- were not the product of fraud or other intentional wrongdoing.

"This election was conducted by responsible public officials and well-intentioned individuals, who were motivated by nothing less than a desire to do the job properly," Lederer said in his 41-page decision.

"What this case represents is an opportunity to learn and for the process to evolve in order to guard against the particular problems that appeared in this case."

Among the problems the judge identified was the failure to properly register voters and to properly vouch for voters who showed up to cast ballots.

As a result, he set aside a total of 79 votes -- well in excess of Opitz's 26-vote winning margin.

Reached in Sambir, Ukraine, Wrzesnewskyj said the decision went a long way to restoring some of the confidence in the system eroded in the election last May. "A lot of disturbing reports came out of the last federal election and Canadians' confidence was shaken," Wrzesnewskyj said.

"That's why it was so important that people not get cynical and see that we have a system that allows us to address those sorts of issues."

Wrzesnewskyj called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call a byelection as quickly as possible and the Liberal party said it was ready for one.

Opitz expressed disappointment with the decision, but noted he and his campaign followed the rules.

"This is not about me -- it's about 52,000 people who followed the rules, cast their ballots and today had their democratic decision thrown into doubt," Opitz said.

During the case argued last month, Wrzesnewskyj's lawyers said the integrity of the electoral system depended on strict adherence to the rules, even if they are just procedural.

Wrzesnewskyj's challenge to the results -- unrelated to the robocall and voter-suppression scandals -- was the first time a court was asked to rule on a contested election under Part 20 of the Canada Elections Act.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 A19

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