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After 2011 voter-suppression fraud, Conservatives remain unrepentant

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I have proposed that there were elements of farce in the trial of Michael Sona -- in which the prosecution's star witness, against whom there was serious material evidence, was given immunity to confabulate, while the accused was convicted on evidence not unlike that of the jailhouse snitches whose testimony is used to sew up corrupt criminal trials in the U.S.

There are other instances as well in which the Canadian state's response to the vote-suppression fraud of 2011 may provoke derisive -- or despairing -- laughter. One of these has been touched on in a previous essay: the absurd declaration of the Commissioner of Canada Elections that he could find no evidence of criminal intention in the fraudulent calls except in Guelph. Two others also deserve our attention.

"Follow the money" is a standard principle in criminal investigation: one might therefore expect that allegations of financial improprieties, involving one of Harper's ministers and possibly connected to the funding of electoral illegalities, might arouse the interest of investigative agencies.

Once again, don't hold your breath.

In May and June 2011, three former board members of the riding association of Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino, MP for Vaughan, Ontario, filed affidavits with Elections Canada making well-documented allegations that in addition to its normal bank account, the riding association had a second, secret, and illegal account containing between $300,000 and $400,000. A slush fund of this size might be connected with various kinds of illegality, ranging from spending in excess of campaign limits to the financing of fraudulent robocalls.

In March 2012 one of them filed a renewed affidavit, "because the three former Vaughan Conservative association members hadn't received an answer from Elections Canada about their inquiry from [the previous] year." Three-and-a-half years later, there have still been no indications of an investigation into this matter. If Fantino and his associates were, as alleged, engaged in serious illegalities, the crime scene must by now have been carefully scrubbed.

But even a much shorter delay by investigators can in some cases be crucial.

In late February 2012 Annette Desgagné, a telephone operator who had been employed at the Thunder Bay, Ontario call centre of Responsive Marketing Group (RMG), a company contracted to the Conservative Party, made national headlines when she declared that her work during the 2011 election campaign had included giving voters misleading information about their polling stations.

At the time, she and some co-workers who had likewise experienced reactions of incredulity verging on anger from citizens who recognized the information as obviously incorrect spoke to their supervisor. After being ordered to continue making the calls, they contacted the RCMP and Elections Canada -- neither of which took any action.

This story was quickly followed by reports in CBC News and the Toronto Star that the Conservative Party had dispatched senior officials to Thunder Bay to go through all of the audio recordings held by Responsive Marketing Group.

It is hard to imagine any innocent explanation for such an act. If the information supplied to RMG by the Conservative Party and communicated by RMG's operators to voters was honest rather than fraudulent, one would expect random errors in RMG's information and in Elections Canada's Voter Information Cards to produce occasional disagreements between them.

Since these differences would amount to low-level random noise, there would be no reason for Conservative officials to take a trip to Thunder Bay. Only if they knew there had been deliberate fraud would there be any point in going through (and presumably purging) the audio tapes.

But not to worry. Elections Canada announced that it was sending one of its investigators to Thunder Bay -- where he would arrive a week later. By that time, one must assume, any incriminating details in the audio records would have been purged.

This tardiness on Elections Canada's part had significant consequences. For when voters in six ridings, supported by the Council of Canadians, asked a court to overturn the narrow Conservative victories in those ridings on the grounds that they rested on telephone fraud, an RMG executive's testimony as to the contents of the audio tapes made up an important part of the evidence on which the judge based his decision.

Given the space for misbehaviour opened up by slack enforcement and investigative procedures, the Harper Conservatives' continued willingness after the 2011 election to engage in telephone deception should come as no surprise.

In November 2011, the Conservative-affiliated company Campaign Research made phone calls into Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's Montreal riding, falsely claiming he was resigning his seat and asking voters to support the Conservatives in the supposedly forthcoming byelection. (Confronted with the deception, Campaign Research tried to lie about the contents of the script used by its operators, and the Conservatives only reluctantly admitted their responsibility for the calls.)

In January 2013, the Conservatives used deceptive robocalls to stir up opposition to the conclusions of a federal electoral boundaries commission. Claims by the Conservative Party and by Matt Meier, of RackNine fame, that they were not involved were exposed as false, and the calls were denounced by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix as "odious," a "disgusting attempt" at "scaremongering."

The Conservative Party has also made clear its continued interest in vote suppression. The so-called Fair Elections Act, pushed through Parliament against fierce opposition from experts in democratic procedures and voting participation, tightens up the requirements to supply proof of identity and residence in a manner that may prevent hundreds of thousands of citizens from voting.

It will also facilitate right-to-vote challenges by Conservative scrutineers: the Act permits them to use cellphones in polling stations, and they will be equipped with a new phone app, ProxiVote, which will enable communication with the CIMS database that can lend plausibility to their challenges in the eyes of poll workers. Thanks to the targeting made possible by CIMS, this tactic can be used selectively at polling stations where there is a history of opposition-party support; the result will be to create delays and line-ups, and consequently to decrease the turn-out.

The Act also muzzles the capacity of the Chief Electoral Officer to inform the public about the electoral process and our right to vote; and it prevents the Commissioner of Canada Elections from informing the public about investigations into violations of the Canada Elections Act "without the consent of all involved, including the person or political party under investigation."

Vote suppression, whether carried out through fraud or through legislative chicanery, makes it technically more difficult to vote a ruling party out of office.

But on the other hand, it does exponentially increase the motivation for doing so -- for giving liars, fraudsters, cheats, and con-artists a healthy taste of long-term, or perhaps even permanent political unemployment.


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