Robo-calls in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Prime Minister Harper posing with Guelph Conservative
Campaign organizer Michael Sona, who is under investigation.
The issue of fraudulent calls to voters during the 2011 federal election has become a huge national controversy, with boatloads of speculation, but very little known about what actually happened or who was responsible. Elections Canada has received a record 31,000 complaints about calls made in May 2011, but has said little about the extent of its investigation or when they might be completed. The only reason this has become known to the public at all is because of a groundbreaking story by Postmedia reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor on February 22nd reporting on Election Canada's investigations into the Conservative Party call centre company, RackNine Inc.

Back in October 2008, complaints were filed after that federal election, making a small splash in the media at the time and quickly forgotten. Elections Canada investigated the specific issue of fraudulent "robo-calls" made to Saanich Gulf-Islands residents on the evening before the October 14, 2008 election.

The calls came from an unknown source but "spoofed" the caller ID showing the phone number of the NDP campaign organizer. They urged voters to vote for Julian West of the NDP, although Mr. West had dropped out of the campaign, too late for his name to be taken off the ballot and too late for the NDP to nominate another candidate. It is believed by many that these calls may have affected the vote enough to ensure Conservative Gary Lunn's win against Liberal Briony Penn, but Elections Canada does not agree. They ruled that they had no proof that anyone had been influenced in their vote and admitted that their investigator could not determine the person or persons who made the call. In Elections Canada's final report on the 2008 federal election, while many issues and problems are mentioned, the complaints around the Saanich-Gulf Islands fraudulent calls nor the agency's failure to find the perpetrators of these calls is mentioned anywhere in the report.

Check this out on Chirbit
 A recording of the 2008 robo-call provided by a Mayne Island resident who received it.

A Mayne Island resident who received the robo-call spoke with investigator Tim Charbonneau of Elections Canada and was told by Mr. Charbonneau that they had no way and no hope of ever tracing the call. If this was the case in 2008, it appears that somehow Elections Canada has been able to improve on that in 2011 because they identified the Conservative-linked firm that placed a robo-call going to a Guelph riding and also tracked it to an obvious bogus name, Pierre Poutine of Separatist St, Joliet Quebec.

Former candidate Briony Penn believes that "[n]one of this today would have happened if we had an Elections Canada that had properly investigated, had clamped [down] on any of the loopholes if they indeed even existed,” the Salt Spring Island resident said. “Why is it that we can uncover spy rings and WikiLeaks can do this, and we can’t find one little source of a robocaller? I mean, that was ridiculous. We don’t know what the investigation consisted of. And we can’t get that information.”

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP, Elizabeth May, who defeated Gary Lunn in the 2011 election alleges that more attempts at misleading voters through phone calls were made during that election and believes that the 2008 robo-calls were a trial run for the more extensive fraudulent calling that occurred in 2011.

Former CRD Director for the Southern Gulf Islands, Ken
Hancock reports that he received a suspicious call in May 2011
Former CRD director for the Southern Gulf Islands, Ken Hancock who resides on Pender Island, has reported a fraudulent call that came to his home on election day 2011. This was a live call and Mr. Hancock reports that the person, who said she represented the Conservative Party, tried to convince him that to vote he needed to take a ferry to Vancouver Island and drive 30 kilometres into Saanich to cast his ballot. Upon further questioning Mr. Hancock reported that the caller then hung up on him.

There have been media reports of 3 whistle-blowers who worked for the telemarketing firm Responsive Management Group who have said they filed complaints in May 2011 with both the RCMP and Elections Canada regarding what they felt was misdirection to voters that they were ordered to make around telling them of polling station changes. The firm is now under investigation by Elections Canada and has done millions of dollars of business with the Conservative Party of Canada. Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) is identified, both in their Canadian and US operations as working for both Conservative and Republican candidates in elections and in fund-raising. A long-time Conservative organizer and strategist named Stewart Braddick is connected to both RMG and the US affiliate Target Outreach.

In the House of Commons, our Prime Minister, whose party has pled guilty to breaking election laws and paid a fine and whose party has been sanctioned by the speaker for making misleading robo-calls into Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's riding, has denounced the whole affair as an "unsubstantiated smear campaign" by sore losers.

To those who have received these calls both across Canada in 2011 and in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008, they have evidence of attempts at voter suppression and illegal actions as defined by the Canada Elections Act. Stephen Harper should be showing Canadians that he takes these issues very seriously rather than playing at hyperbolic rhetorical games during Question Period and slandering those who are honestly complaining and want to see some action against those who committed these crimes against our democracy.

Update March 5th: Former Liberal candidate Briony Penn, who ran against Conservative Gary Lunn in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008 and came within 2500 votes of winning has written a piece published in the Ottawa Citizen today. She talks about her campaign's complaints to Elections Canada around the robo-calls that occurred here and what she considered insufficient follow-up from the federal agency.

I was the first robocalls victim     by Briony Penn

My name is Briony Penn — I am a journalist and lecturer, and I ran as a political candidate in the 2008 federal election. My other claim to fame is apparently being the first “victim” of illegal robocalls.

We tried to warn Canadians what was coming up in the next election, but our complaints were inadequately investigated by Elections Canada and ignored by most media. If they had been investigated properly, then the outcome of the 2011 election may well have looked very different.

.... Read more:


  1. Time to end the smear and sore loser angle ONCE and FOR all. Taken into CONTEXT, EACH call to misdirect voters is a singular act, that only affected the person who received the call. Many voters would not have thought that it was in fact a large scale operation or threat to democracy because it only affected them at the time. As voting preferences is supposed to be a private matter, typically, many people do not discuss politics or would not talk about the fact they got a disturbing call. It is only in the larger context , that once it was made public, that more people are also reporting the fact that they too got the same calls. If the conservatives have nothing to hide, then lets compare the list of phone numbers given to racknine, to each parties database of numbers... a forensic comparison, with statistical odds.. will prove that the numbers came from the CPC CIMS database, proving that the information released had to be approved at a national level... simple really..

  2. I read that today the Conservatives dared the Liberals to come forward and make their phone lists and records public. The Liberals have now agreed to do this. The Cons via Dean Del Mastro are now they they don't have to because "obviously" they are not responsible for any of this.

    As someone said to a reporter today, the Conservatives aren't looking like people who have nothing to hide.

  3. that is not the call i got on Thanksgiving Monday eve 2008
    The voice was male
    It just reminded me to vote for Julian
    It was strange,because I knew Julian personally and that he wasn't running.
    It had been a stormy weekend, and power was on and off that evening

  4. Interesting Oemissions. I wonder if the fraudsters had different versions.

    The recording embedded in the post above was received the evening before the election as well and a copy of this recording was sent to Elections Canada shortly after the election. The caller ID when this call came in was the name and number of the NDP campaign manager, which was "spoofed" according to Elections Canada. This was the same name and number reported by many others in the riding. As well it was widely reported at the time that the NDP adamantly denied any part in sending this call, which was confirmed by the Elections Canada investigation.

    I wonder if others sent a copy of their phone message to Elections Canada.