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Robo-call lawsuit should be thrown out because voter doesn't live there, Tories argue

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 18, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

One of the lawsuits seeking to overturn Conservative election victories in seven federal ridings, because of alleged misleading robo-calls, was launched by a woman who was ineligible to vote in the constituency where she's contesting the outcome.

Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has brought the matter to light in new federal court documents and is asking a Federal Court judge to dismiss the challenge of election results in the Toronto riding of Don Valley East.

It's one of seven suits underwritten by the left-leaning Council of Canadians that allege misleading robo-calls or other harassing phone messages interfered with fair ballots in ridings from Yukon to Toronto during the May 2, 2011 federal election.

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Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said the basic error in the Don Valley East case should cast doubt on the rest of the lawsuits as well.

"The Council of Canadians' case is based on the flimsiest of evidence, clearly thrown together without any real care or concern for the facts," Mr. DeLorey said.

The legal action was launched in the wake of revelations that Elections Canada was investigating fraudulent voter calls in the Ontario riding of Guelph and reports that the watchdog was receiving many calls alleging similar behaviour in other districts.

Last week, the Conservatives filed evidence that demonstrates the voter bringing a lawsuit on behalf of Don Valley East had no standing to cast a ballot in that riding because her registered address was in a neighbouring constituency.

"Leeanne Bielli is contesting the results of an election she had no right to vote in," Joe Daniel, the Conservative MP elected in Don Valley East, said in a motion filed Oct. 17.

The Canada Elections Act says an elector can challenge an election in a riding on the grounds of irregularities or corruption only if they were eligible to vote in that constituency.

Evidence produced by the Tories indicates Ms. Bielli was supposed to vote in Don Valley West, a riding next door, for the May 2, 2011, vote.

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Documents filed Oct. 17 by the party shows the final list of electors compiled by Elections Canada records Ms. Bielli as registered to vote in Don Valley West.

The Conservatives also produced Ontario Ministry of Transportation records showing that since at least Feb. 28, 2011, Ms. Bielli was registered as living at a Don Valley West address "and that she resides there still," according to the affidavit of a lawyer employed by the Conservatives.

Council of Canadians lawyer Steven Shrybman, who is acting for the voters challenging the 2011 election results, said he won't oppose the Tory motion to dismiss the Don Valley East lawsuit.

He said Ms. Bielli made an "honest mistake" when she thought she was eligible to cast a ballot in Don Valley East.

Mr. Shrybman said the Council is not to blame for this oversight.

"Leeanne Bielli retained me and the firm to represent her. We interviewed her and went over her affidavit with her. She had the honest belief that she was in Don Valley East and we didn't have any reason to doubt it," Mr. Shrybman said.

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"We interviewed and re-interviewed. We had no reason to doubt."

The Tories also are seeking to be reimbursed for the costs of fighting this lawsuit. Mr. Shrybman said he would like to know when the Conservatives first learned of the error in the Bielli case.

Ms. Bielli also never voted in the 2011 election, a fact that she disclosed in her own affidavit filed earlier this year – but one that by itself would not have disqualified her from contesting the case.

In her affidavit, Ms. Bielli said she received two pre-recorded calls on her cellphone purporting to be from Elections Canada. They indicated her polling station had changed.

She said she neglected to write down the address of the new polling station before the call ended and assumed she would be unable to vote as a consequence.

The seven ridings where challenges were launched are: Yukon, Nipissing-Timiskaming in Ont-ario, Elmwood-Transcona in Manitoba, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Winnipeg South Centre, Don Valley East in Toronto and Vancouver Island North. All were won by Conservative candidates by relatively small margins.

Central to the legal challenges underwritten by the Council of Canadians is a poll by Ekos Research that the firm said demonstrated strong evidence of a targeted program of voter suppression aimed at non-Conservative voters during the campaign for the May 2011 election.

The mid-April 2012 survey found Canadian voters in the seven ridings in question were 50 per cent more likely to say they had received illegitimate calls than those in 106 surveyed "comparison" ridings, many of which had no reports of illegal calls.

About three times as many Liberal, New Democratic and Green supporters as Conservative supporters claimed they were given false or incorrect information about polling-station locations in the last two or three days of the campaign, Ekos found.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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