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Elections Canada needs new powers to clean up election system, but has an enforcement problem

Set out below is a letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Tyler Sommers which was published in the The Hill Times on August 6, 2012

Re: “Elections Canada already has power to clean up election system, it has an enforcement problem, say experts,” (The Hill Times, July 30, p. 1), should have been entitled, “Elections Canada needs new powers to clean up election system, and has an enforcement problem, say most experts.”

Only one expert quoted in the article said he thought that the Canada Elections Act gives Elections Canada all the powers it needs because, among other sections, Sec. 482 “makes it an offence to attempt to suppress votes.”

However, this is not correct. Because of Elections Canada’s interpretation used in its July 4 ruling on a complaint that Democracy Watch recently released publicly, Sec. 482 and other sections only prohibit actually suppressing votes (or actually getting voters to switch their votes) by providing false information.

While Democracy Watch believes this interpretation is legally incorrect, Elections Canada has essentially made Sec. 482 and other sections unenforceable because it has established that it must prove the improvable—that a person actually switched their vote or didn’t vote due to a false call to the voter or false information provided to the voter.

The other experts quoted in your article essentially say that changes to the Canada Elections Act are needed to help stop this false voter baiting, but some claim that changes to the act won’t make much difference.

I don’t think they are considering what effective changes would mean. If, as the Conservatives should do to comply with the motion passed in March by the House of Commons, they introduce and pass a bill this fall that makes it clear that “attempting to convince” a voter to do something using false information is illegal, and if the bill requires every organization that has phone lines/voice over internet/robocall equipment to register the actual identity of anyone or any organization that books or does a robocall/mass email during an election campaign period, and to keep a copy of the message sent by the call/email, with severe jail terms as the penalty for violators, then it will become relatively easy to identify these people and charge and convict them if their call provides false information to voters.

And if the bill also requires Elections Canada to disclose publicly the rulings it has made on more than 3,000 complaints it has received since 1997, then the enforcement problems it has will likely be corrected and cleaned up.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Voter Rights Campaign