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Democracy Watch calls on Commissioner of Canada Elections to issue public update or ruling on investigation into RightNow anti-abortion group collusion with Conservative Party candidates during 2019 election

RightNow confirmed it was being investigated in February 2020 – public ruling needed to clarify the rules before the next election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch release the letter it has sent to Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté requesting that he issue, as soon as possible, a public update or ruling on allegations of illegal election collusion between the anti-abortion group RightNow and Conservative Party candidates during the 2019 federal election.

RightNow confirmed that it was under investigation in a May 2020 National Post article, and that it had received a letter from the Commissioner’s Director of Investigations in February 2020.

RightNow recruited campaign volunteers and offered them training through in-person sessions and webinars that contained some very direct information about volunteering for Conservative candidate campaigns, as reported by PressProgress.ca in this August 29, 2019 article and CBC in this September 6, 2019 article. RightNow also coordinated directing volunteers to campaigns.

The Post article states that the letter from the Commissioner’s investigations director raises the question of whether the recruitment, training and coordination by RightNow was a non-monetary donation of services to the Conservative candidates, which would be a violation of the Canada Elections Act (CEA) because only individuals are allowed to contribute to parties, riding associations and candidates (see subsection 363(1) and definition of “non-monetary contribution” in subsection 2(1)).

The Post article also indicates that RightNow was planning to resist requests from the Commissioner’s investigators for documents and interviews about their activities.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that the only way RightNow could legally provide those services to candidates is if the candidates paid it market value for the services. According to candidate reports to Election Canada (filed under subsection 477.59(2)(b)), RightNow was not paid for the services.

Another issue that the investigation may be looking into is whether RightNow and Conservative candidates violated the rule added in spring 2019 to the CEA (subsection 351.01) that prohibits a party or candidate (or person associated with a candidate’s campaign) and a third party from colluding, including by sharing information, in order to influence the third party’s partisan activities, advertising or surveys during the election campaign period.

Democracy Watch’s position is that, to find a violation of the anti-collusion rule, the Commissioner is not required to find proof that RightNow undertook an activity because of sharing information with Conservative candidates or the Conservative Party. Instead, all the Commissioner needs to find is evidence that information was shared “in order to influence” RightNow’s activities.

“The donation and anti-collusion rules are aimed at ensuring fair and democratic elections, and preventing lobby groups from unethically helping parties and candidates get elected, and so it was good that the election commissioner investigated the activities of RightNow supporting Conservative candidates,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is important for the commissioner to issue a ruling on this situation as soon as possible so that any wrongdoing that may have occurred is confirmed publicly, and so the rules are made clear before the next election campaign starts, which could happen at any time.”

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign