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British Columbia B.C. electoral officer threatened over recall controversy

Fight HST pin.

Lyle Stafford for the Globe and Mail/lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Chief Electoral Officer was escorted into the legislature by Sergeant-at-Arms staff on Monday, a security measure that was put in place after he received threats of violence because he rejected an anti-HST recall application.

The enhanced security came the same day Craig James attempted to clear the air in a written statement that explained why Elections BC drafted new rules after anti-HST organizers had already submitted their first recall application.

But while Mr. James argued he made the policy change because he wanted to avoid any legal challenges, his comments only raised more questions, both about his insistence the application would have been over the word limit even without the new rules, and Elections BC's earlier comments on why the policy change was necessary at all.

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Elections BC rejected the recall application last week under a rule it established two days after the petition was submitted. Anti-HST organizers said they were aware the application had a 200-word limit, but were never told acronyms like MLA and HST counted as more than one word each. Elections BC said they were a combined eight words, pushing the application over the limit.

Anti-HST organizers plan to collect signatures against members of the Liberal government who supported the harmonized sales tax. Their first target is Universities Minister Ida Chong, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

When news of the application's rejection and word-count policy change first broke, an Elections BC spokeswoman said: "Before the application had been submitted, there had been no need for a policy. No recall application in the past had ever come close to the 200-word limit. It hadn't been an issue."

But Colin Nielsen, lead organizer for the recall campaign against Ms. Chong, said that's not the case. Mr. Nielsen said an Elections BC report from 1999 details a recall campaign in the riding of Skeena against former MLA Helmut Giesbrecht.

Mr. Nielsen noted the statement, which can be accessed on the Elections BC website, is 194 words, close to the 200-word limit. In fact, if MLA was counted as five words then, the statement would have been declared invalid.

Mr. James, who declined an interview request, wrote in his statement that he wanted to ensure the word-count policy was more detailed in case it was ever challenged in court. His statement did not address whether he regretted making the shift after a prominent application was already submitted.

He added the recall application would have been over the word limit even without the new policy, a fact Fight HST spokesman Chris Delaney strongly disputed. Mr. Delaney said before the application was formally entered, organizers had another Elections BC official look it over. He said it came in at about 180 words.

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While he disagreed with Mr. James on that point, Mr. Delaney condemned the threats.

"We totally denounce the use of violence to achieve anything. It's not the Canadian way, it's not the way of British Columbians," he said.

Those comments were seconded by Mike Farnworth, the NDP's justice critic.

"Craig James is an independent officer of the legislature. He's making his decisions and I may have questions around some of them, but at the end of the day he is doing his job."

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