Police are not laying any charges and have closed their nearly two-year-long investigation into alleged voter fraud at an Ontario Progressive Conservative nomination meeting in Hamilton, despite discovering that 85 phony ballots were cast.
After reviewing the case with the Crown attorney, Hamilton police announced Monday that there is “insufficient evidence” to proceed with criminal charges.
“The Hamilton Police Service believes that a fraud took place, but we are unable to tie the fraudulent activity to any individual,” Inspector Dave Hennick said.
However, police are appealing to anyone with additional information to come forward in relation to the May 7, 2017, nomination meeting in the riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.
The investigation – which was believed to be the country’s first criminal probe into alleged voter fraud at a political nomination meeting – has dogged the PC Party since allegations of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities emerged soon after the vote.
Police arrested two people in February, 2018, Inspector Hennick said, but they were later released unconditionally. The arrests only came to light in an affidavit the lead officer filed in court in November, after The Globe and Mail and CTV made an application to unseal documents related to the case, a move the Crown is opposing.
Inspector Hennick said Monday that officers seized ballot boxes from the nomination meeting and discovered that 85 people who were not present at the vote were listed as having cast a ballot – including one person who had died a week earlier.
The suspicious ballots came from the credentials desk, which is typically where people are sent after encountering problems at standard alphabetical registration stations. Many voter forms from the credentials desk appeared to have been “falsified,” police said in a release. In addition, ballots were “marked in what appeared to be a similar manner.”
Votes cast at the credentials-desk ballot box secured candidate Ben Levitt’s win, police said. Mr. Levitt did not respond to messages seeking comment on Monday.
Based on the other seven ballot boxes, Vikram Singh would have won the nomination. Mr. Singh said he had “full faith” in the judgment of the police and Crown attorney, but called for more oversight of candidate nominations. Currently, there is no independent oversight of nomination races by federal or provincial electoral watchdogs.
“I think now it’s a period of reflection to see how we can ensure that we improve our system,” said Mr. Singh, a criminal defence lawyer who sued the PC Party soon after the nomination meeting, but later reached a settlement.
In response to a question about whether Premier Doug Ford supports expanding Elections Ontario’s mandate to oversee nomination votes, spokesman Simon Jefferies said: “Premier Ford is always interested in hearing about how the transparency and fairness of our democratic process can be improved.”
Mr. Jefferies added that “these allegations happened under Patrick Brown when he was party leader.” Mr. Brown was forced to resign a year ago amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies.
Mr. Brown, who is now mayor of Brampton, did not respond to questions sent to his spokesman. Inspector Hennick said officers did not interview Mr. Brown, but declined comment when asked if they wanted to speak with him. Mr. Brown told the Brampton Guardian last fall that he offered to talk to police in 2017, but they were not interested.
Several nomination races held under Mr. Brown were disputed – and six were later overturned by the party – amid allegations of electoral interference. Last March, the PC Party announced that the results in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas would be set aside. A new vote took place in April and was also won by Mr. Levitt. He lost to the NDP in the provincial election and now works in the office of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.
The Globe and Mail reported previously that there was a printer at the nomination meeting cranking out fake Rogers and Scotiabank statements that enabled people who were not eligible to vote to cast ballots, according to multiple sources.
Hamilton Police said they interviewed nearly 150 witnesses and executed 15 judicial authorizations. Officers seized more than 61 items as evidence, including 1,800 PC Party ballots, 345 credentials referral forms and 1,648 pages of e-mail correspondence.