The man in charge of Elections Canada has broken his silence on the fraudulent robo-calls controversy, divulging that the agency has received 700 specific complaints about phony dialling from the 2011 ballot in the past three weeks.
In his first statement on the matter, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand also strongly hinted Thursday that he would like to be called before a parliamentary committee so he can offer more detail about the allegations received.
His office is already investigating what it has alleged in court filings is an operative connected to the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., one it believes used an alias “Pierre Poutine” and misleading robo-calls to try to suppress voting by supporters of rival parties.
A senior Conservative government official said later Thursday that the Tories, who control House and Senate committees, are “amenable” to having Mr. Mayrand speak before MPs.
The Commons, however, is rising for a spring break after March 16 and MPs won’t be sitting again until March 26.
Mr. Mayrand’s comments more tightly define the scope of the alleged problem with harassing or misleading calls in the 2011 election.
On March 2, Elections Canada inadvertently sowed confusion when it announced it had received 31,000 “contacts” from Canadians on robo-calls – a number some misinterpreted as the number of specific grievances collected.
It was only earlier this week that Elections Canada began to clarify the nature of messages it had received, saying the majority of these were form letters expressing general concern on harassing or misleading calls to voters. Activist groups such as Leadnow.ca had set up websites to forward such letters to Elections Canada.
The agency said Elections Canada will review the 700 complaints and weigh the evidence and determine whether they constitute a breach or possible breach of election law. It will then investigate further if needed.
Mr. Mayrand also used his Thursday statement to address the media storm that began about three weeks ago when news broke of his agency’s probe into phony calls in Guelph.
He warned Canadians against pre-judging what has taken place based on what is contained in the intense media coverage of the matter.
“I advise caution about drawing conclusions based on possibly inaccurate and incomplete information,” Mr. Mayrand said.
Elections Canada has kept publicly quiet about its probe but court filings by its lead investigator have provided insight into its working theories about fraudulent calls in Guelph that tried to direct voters to the wrong polling station.
Despite the robo-calls, the Liberals retained this riding in the 2011 election, winning by a margin of 6,200 votes.
The Elections Canada investigation into Guelph has become more difficult since reports of the probe first surfaced Feb. 22, and the agency’s lead investigator, Al Mathews, has privately complained that media reporting is complicating his work.
The watchdog has had to contend with news reports where sources familiar with the investigation – and people Mr. Mathews has interviewed – appear to be divulging choice bits of relevant information to journalists.
Mr. Mayrand sought to assure Canadians in his Thursday statement that Elections Canada is in fact keeping as quiet possible about the investigation until it is complete.
“Like all law enforcement bodies, the Office of the Commissioner generally does not disclose information on its investigative activities in order to protect the presumption of innocence and privacy,” Mr. Mayrand said.
“This also ensures that investigations are carried out effectively while meeting the high standards of due process and impartiality that are required and expected in a free and democratic society.”
The chief electoral officer offered to testify before the Commons Procedures and House Affairs Committee and divulge what he could on the robo-calls complaints.
“As an agent of Parliament, I would welcome the opportunity to appear ... to provide information on our administrative and investigative processes.”