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Elections Canada decides to keep its rulings secret on more than 3,000 complaints

| January 9, 2013
Elections Canada decides to keep its rulings secret on more than 3,000 complaints

Elections Canada decides to keep its rulings secret on more than 3,000 complaints because the rulings may make Commissioner of Elections look bad -- group complains to Information Commissioner and calls for public inquiry

Refusal to disclose past rulings raises question of whether rulings on robocall complaints will be disclosed -- group calls on complainants to send in any letter they received from the Commissioner

More than 62,000 messages have been sent by Canadians through Democracy Watch’s letter-writing drive calling for disclosure of election complaint rulings, and other fair election enforcement measures

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the federal Information Commissioner and renewed its call for a full public inquiry into Elections Canada’s enforcement record because Elections Canada has refused to release the rulings by the Commissioner of Elections on more than 3,000 complaints since 1997.

Elections Canada’s main reason for refusing to disclose the rulings is that they could make the Commissioner of Elections look bad -- which is a bizarre reason given that the Commissioner has sent a ruling letter to each of the complainants, and Democracy Watch has only requested copies of those already public letters.  Democracy Watch has appealed to Elections Canada to re-consider its decision to keep the rulings secret.

Almost all the other Officers of Parliament -- the Auditor General of Canada, the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying, are required to disclose final decisions/rulings (under 16.1 or 16.2 of the Access to Information Act).  Elections Canada has only had the discretionary right to refuse to disclose rulings since 2007 after the Conservatives weakened the Act by adding section 16.3 (the Ethics Commissioner is the other officer allowed, unfortunately, to make secret rulings).

To get around Elections Canada’s secrecy, Democracy Watch called on complainants from across Canada to send in any ruling letters they have received from the Commissioner of Elections since 1997 by mail to P.O. Box 821, Stn. B, Ottawa K1P 5P9, by email to: campaigns@democracywatch.ca or by fax to: 613-241-4758.

More than 62,000 messages have been sent by Canadians to key politicians through Democracy Watch’s national letter-writing drive calling for clear requirements to disclose election complaint rulings, and for passage of other key measures for fair elections and strong enforcement.

“The public must see all of Elections Canada’s rulings to know whether it is an effective democracy watchdog or an ineffective lapdog,” said Democracy Watch Coordinator Tyler Sommers. “It is completely contradictory and hypocritical for Elections Canada to commit to disclosing its rulings on every robocall complaint but refuse to disclose its rulings on other complaints.”

“Elections Canada raises serious questions about its commitment to transparency and accountability by refusing to disclose its rulings on more than 2,000 complaints filed during elections since 1997, on an unknown number of complaints filed in between elections since 1997, and on more than 1,000 complaints filed during the 2011 election, even though the Access to Information Act allows the rulings to be disclosed, and even though the rulings have been publicly  disclosed in letters to almost all the complainants over the past 15 years,”  said Sommers. “This is more evidence that a full public inquiry is needed into how Elections Canada has been enforcing the law for the past several elections, because its secret rulings may be hiding a biased, unfair or ineffective enforcement record.”

Last March, Democracy Watch requested under the federal Access to Information Act the ruling letters send to complainants by the Commissioner of Elections for a total of 2,982 complaints people have filed during elections since 1997.  Democracy Watch also requested the ruling letters Elections Canada has sent to an unknown number of people who filed complaints in-between elections (the total is unknown because Elections Canada does not disclose any information about complaints it receives in-between elections).

Democracy Watch will continue to seek the information from Elections Canada as the public has a clear right to see the rulings that any law enforcement agency makes on any complaint.  If this information is kept secret, it is a recipe for abuse and corruption as it can allow any agency to hide a biased, unfair, discriminatory, ineffective or otherwise improper enforcement record.

Democracy Watch will also continue to push for section 16.3 of the Access to Information Act to be changed to require Elections Canada to disclose all its rulings, and for other key fair election changes to the Canada Elections Act.

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