A Conservative MP's retraction of a claim he witnessed voting fraud came after a formal complaint to Elections Canada.
Brad Butt, the MP for the riding of Mississauga–Streetsville, said on two occasions earlier this month – while speaking in support of his government's proposed "Fair Elections Act" – that he had personally witnessed people collecting discarded voter ID cards with the aim of using them to vote illegally. On Monday, he stood up in the House of Commons to retract that, saying his initial statements were "not accurate" but offering few details.
The Speaker is now considering whether Mr. Butt was in contempt, with the NDP arguing Tuesday morning Mr. Butt deliberately misled the House.
Mr. Butt gave no indication what prompted his retraction, but a complaint had been made to the Commissioner of Canada Elections – incidentally, a role the Fair Elections Act proposes to substantially overhaul by moving the role out of Elections Canada and under the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Stephen Best, the chief agent for the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, said he complained to Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, about Mr. Butt's claim and was told the case would be referred to the Commissioner of Elections.
"I have asked that EC's records to be searched to see if the matter of possible fraudulent voting had been brought to our attention either here at HQ or at the Returning officer office for Mississauga-Streetsville. I have also forwarded your information to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for his review and independent consideration of any possible action that may be warranted," Mr. Mayrand replied, according to an e-mail provided by Mr. Best.
Mr. Best made the complaint on Feb. 7, the day after Mr. Butt spoke in the House of Commons.
Elections Canada declined comment on the correspondence, including on whether the Commissioner was investigating Mr. Butt. "As per policy: The Commissioner of Canada Elections will not confirm or deny that a complaint has been received or that an investigation is underway," Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said.
The Commissioner's office also declined to detail to Mr. Best what, if anything, its response would include, but assigned his complaint a file number and issued him a formal response.
"My experience with Elections Canada is they take all this stuff very seriously," said Mr. Best, whose political party is registered in Canada and ran seven candidates in the last election but has no MPs. The party doesn't support the Fair Elections Act, which it says would disenfranchise some voters.
Mr. Best said he complained to ensure an allegation of a case of election fraud was investigated. "We're talking about a crime being committed here, but it seemed like nobody responded," Mr. Best said. "…It needs to be investigated, it seems to me. He [Mr. Butt] withdrew it and walked away from it. But why did he say it?"
Mr. Butt first made the claim on Feb. 6. "One of the things that I have seen is I've seen on mail delivery day, when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in an apartment building, we often find that many of them are actually just discarded. They're in the garbage can or in the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people coming in, picking up voter cards, going back to, I guess, whatever campaign of the candidate they support, and actually handing out those voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into a voting station with a friend of theirs that vouches for them with no ID."
He repeated the claim roughly an hour later that day.
"I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop."
On Feb. 13, in a committee, he repeated a similar story but said he'd only heard of it "anecdotally." After a one-week break from Parliament, he stood up on Monday to say it was not true.
"I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate, and I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter identification cards from the garbage cans or from mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that," he said Monday morning.
On Tuesday morning, NDP Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen stood up in the House to argue that Mr. Butt committed a contempt of parliament.
"He clearly intended to mislead the House by fabricating a story," Mr. Cullen said. In a speech to the Speaker Tuesday, Mr. Cullen laid out precedent cases that he argued prove that it's against the rules to deliberately mislead the House of Commons, and argued Mr. Butt did just that. "This was no honest mistake. He fabricated a story to justify voting for a flawed government bill. He totally invented it," Mr. Cullen alleged.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan replied by saying Mr. Butt's apology was sufficient, and that he, too, had heard anecdotally about such voter fraud taking place.
"Having realized his comments were in error, he has come to this House and corrected the record… I think that alone is sufficient to rebut any concern that there has been a contempt here," Mr. Van Loan said.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said Mr. Butt's claim was "very clear" and was repeated before he retracted it, and wondered what prompted the correction. "Is it because Elections Canada, after reviewing what he said, maybe approached the member? It's a very serious allegation," Mr. Lamoureux said Tuesday in the House of Commons, arguing Mr. Butt backtracked once he learned the statement "was in fact going to be looked at seriously from Elections Canada and other stakeholders out there."
Speaker Andrew Scheer declined to rule on the NDP's privilege motion Tuesday, saying he first wants to hear from Mr. Butt personally.
Mr. Butt didn't respond to an interview request on Monday, and didn't immediately respond to another request Tuesday.