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Elections Canada keeps rulings secret on 2,982 complaints since 1997

For a related Huffington Post article click here

News Release

Federal politicians continue to fail to require disclosure of key information to ensure the Canada Elections Act is enforced fairly and effectively

Monday, April 16, 2012

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its analysis of Elections Canada’s enforcement of the Canada Elections Act since 1997, revealing that the main problem is no one can tell whether Elections Canada has been enforcing the law fairly and properly because it has failed to disclose details of how it has investigated and ruled on 2,982 of the 5,018 complaints it has received about federal elections in the past 15 years.

All federal politicians who have served on the committees that have, at least once each year since 1997, questioned the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada have been negligent by failing to notice and question this huge gap in Elections Canada’s reports.

“Politicians from every federal party, and the Chief Electoral Officer, have all said that it’s very important for Canadians to have faith in the fairness of their federal elections but Elections Canada continues to hide details about its investigations and rulings on almost 3,000 complaints it has received since 1997, and MPs continue to fail to demand this information from Elections Canada,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Without this information no one can tell whether Elections Canada  enforces the federal election law fairly and effectively.”

“Federal MPs have to stop being so negligent and start demanding regular, detailed reports about what all the key federal good government watchdogs are doing, and not doing,” said Sommers.

On March 12th, the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution (archive website) committing the federal government to introduce and pass a bill to enhance the Chief Electoral Officer’s investigative power and to restrict robocalls, and on March 29th the Chief Electoral Officer testified before a House committee.  However, on both occasions MPs failed to require Elections Canada to disclose publicly the results and findings and rulings for each decision made on each past complaint.

Elections Canada head Marc Mayrand took a small step toward much-needed transparency when he disclosed at the House committee hearing that, in fact, a total of 800 complaints were filed by voters about false phone calls during the 2011 federal election from 200 ridings, and that 250 investigations have been initiated.

However, Mr. Mayrand continued to keep secret its rulings on 1,003 other complaints filed with Elections Canada by voters during the 2011 election, and on 1,979 other complaints that Elections Canada received during the 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections (as well as an unknown number of complaints filed in between elections since 1997).

The details of Democracy Watch’s analysis of Elections Canada’s reports on the 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 elections are as follows:

  • Overall, 5,018 complaints were received by Elections Canada during election periods since 1997, and Elections Canada provides at least a summary in its post-election reports of how 2,026 complaints were resolved (1,874 of these were summarized in Elections Canada’s report on the 2011 election (all resolved without major problems), 108 are described on its Compliance Agreements webpage, and 44 on its Sentencing Digest webpage);
  • Note that since 1997 Elections Canada has only required a compliance action in 108 cases (47 of which were in 2002), and has only won sentences in 44 cases (only 15 of which have been won since 2004) — this could indicate a very weak investigation and enforcement record, or that most complaints are not serious;
  • Elections Canada’s enforcement record is currently unknowable because it continues to keep secret details about how and when it resolved 2,982 of the complaints it received during elections since 1997;
  • Note that it is likely that Elections Canada has received many other complaints about which it has never issued public reports or rulings, as the above totals are only about election-related complaints (Elections Canada does not issue an annual report on enforcement of the Canada Elections Act);
  • Elections Canada’s report on the 1997 Election (Investigations section) stated that 257 complaints had been brought to the attention of Commissioner and investigations were underway;
  • Elections Canada’s report on the 2000 Election (Enforcement section) stated that 382 complaints had been brought to the attention of the Commissioner, with 251 resolved, and 131 remaining open;
  • Elections Canada’s report on the 2004 Election (Enforcement Section) stated 511 complaints had been brought to the attention of the Commissioner, with 419 resolved, and 92 remaining open;
  • Its May 2006 report on the 2006 election (section 4.2.4 Electoral Law Enforcement) stated that 329 complaints had been received, 231 had been resolved, and 98 remained open;
  • However, Elections Canada provided no details in either the 2004 or 2006 report about any of the complaints, whether resolved or still open;
  • In both its 2004 and 2006 reports (in the sections cited above), Elections Canada claims that: “As the cases progress, updated statistics on complaints, investigations and prosecutions appear in the Chief Electoral Officer’s periodic reports and publications, as well as on the Elections Canada Web site”.  No updated statistics have appeared in any of the CEO’s reports or publications, nor on its website.
  • In its February 2009 report on the 2008 election (section 2.10 Electoral Law Enforcement), Elections Canada stated that 500 complaints had been received, but did not provide any details about the number of complaints resolved or still open;
  • In its August 2011 report on the 2011 federal election, Elections Canada did better by including a chart that categorized the 1,872 complaints it had received about accessibility problems (Report on accessibility subsection of section 2.4), and summarized how they had been resolved.  Elections Canada also provided a summary of two situations about which it had received 2,956 emails (about interference in an advance poll in Guelph, Ontario), and 700 emails (about a radio interview during the blackout period just before election day);
  • However, its 2011 report provided no details about 1,003 other complaints Elections Canada received (Electoral law enforcement subsection of section 2.4), nor any details about how they had been investigated or what rulings had been issued.

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Voter Rights Campaign page