Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bogus election robocall made in Winnipeg Centre

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A couple who lives in downtown Winnipeg said they thought the automated call they received on election day directing them to a different polling station was simply a wrong number.

But now, Gerald McIvor said he believes he was a target of a scheme to misdirect voters across Canada.

"I found it sort of funny at the time but we'd already voted so we thought it must just be a wrong number," he said.

The call to the McIvor residence around 3 p.m. took place after McIvor and his wife had returned from voting at their polling station, which was across the street from their apartment. It was a recording of a female voice who claimed to be from Elections Canada. She said the polling station had changed because of high voter turnout.

McIvor said he didn't listen to the whole message carefully so he does not remember the location of the bogus polling station.

He became concerned it wasn't just a wrong number last week after hearing media reports about similar calls made in other ridings, which sparked an Elections Canada investigation into possible voter fraud.

"To me it seems like it was an attempt to contravene my democratic and constitutional right to vote," said McIvor.

McIvor's is the first public complaint of a bogus robocall misdirecting voters to occur in Winnipeg Centre. In Manitoba, complaints have arisen in Winnipeg South Centre and Elmwood-Transcona. Across the country, there have been complaints in more than a dozen other ridings.

Complaints of harassing calls from people pretending to be Liberals have also been made in more than a dozen ridings, including Saint Boniface and Winnipeg South Centre.

Elections Canada will not confirm details of its investigation, though in his official report on the May 2 vote, Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand reported the agency was looking into "crank calls designed to discourage voting, discourage voting for a particular party, or incorrectly advise electors of changed polling locations."

A Postmedia investigation last week disclosed that Elections Canada had tracked one of the robocalls made to a voter in Guelph, Ont., via call display to a web-hosting company in Edmonton. RackNine Inc., had done work for numerous Conservative candidates during the election but there is no proof any of those candidates was involved in the scheme.

RackNine said it's co-operating with Elections Canada.

The issue dominated question period Monday in which NDP and Liberal MPs called it "the most comprehensive election fraud in Canadian history."

Opposition parties allege the Tories are behind the calls in a scheme to win hotly contested ridings.

Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin said it isn't plausible a single person concocted and executed the scheme.

"This took big money and sophistication to execute," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood firm amid the allegations.

He rejected what he called "broad, sweeping" allegations from the opposition parties, and put the onus on the NDP and Liberals to provide evidence of wrongdoing.

"If the NDP has any information that inappropriate calls were placed, and we certainly have information in some cases and we have given that to Elections Canada, then I challenge that party to produce that information and give it to Elections Canada."

All parties voted for an NDP motion that calls on MPs to aid Elections Canada and the RCMP, including turning over all documents related to the investigation immediately.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

WHAT is the legal issue with the robocalls?

UNDER the Elections Act, it's an offence to do anything "with the intention of delaying or obstructing the electoral process." Calling voters to say the location of a polling station has changed would likely be considered an act that would intentionally delay or obstruct the electoral process. Penalties range from a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, or up to three months in jail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2012 A4

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