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U of G Local Professor Writing 'Robcall' Book

Web posted on April 07, 2014

On March 13 OPIRG hosted a talk by Michael Keefer, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, about his current book on the 2011 federal election `Robocall scandal'. Keefer is in the final stages of writing the ten chapter book entitled Sabotaging Democracy: Robocall Voter Suppression in Canada's 2011 Election, which will come out later this year.

Keefer taught in the School of English and Theatre Studies for over twenty years and has published many works on topics ranging from English Renaissance literature, to electoral fraud in the U.S., and Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan. His intent with this latest work is to expose all the facts of the case.

Keefer began by explaining the difference between voter fraud and election fraud, terms that are often confused. Voter fraud is extremely rare and committed by individual voters. By contrast electoral fraud is systemic and organized.

Many in Guelph remember the fraudulent phone calls during the last federal election as the city became the center of the scandal. However, few know of the national scale of voter suppression tactics during the last election. There were complaints made in 240 of the 308 ridings, and between 820 000 and 980 000 calls were made.

The fraudulent phone calls occurred in two waves. The first calls were made in mid-April to Liberal supporters in Ontario ridings. These were largely harassment calls that voters received at all hours. There was a decline in the Liberal polls when these calls were reported, however other factors may have been involved including the response to attack ads.

The second wave of calls occurred near the end of April. These calls impersonated Elections Canada and falsely notified voters of changes in polling stations. Strangely, these calls ended with a callback number to the Conservative Party. On the last day calls shifted to automated robocalls , and an estimated 2.3% of all Canadian voters received fraudulent calls.

There has been debate on the impact that these calls had on election results. However, Keefer used the example of Gary Lunn in the 2008 federal election to highlight the impact that electoral fraud can have on voting results. In the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, BC the NDP candidate Gary Lunn withdrew from the election before his name could be removed from the ballot. A poll at the time indicated that less than 1% of voters still intended to vote for Lunn. However, after voters were flooded with fraudulent robocalls supporting Lunn's re-election he received 5.7% of votes. Keefer stated that the "Conservatives may well have got their majority by fraudulent means."

Currently only one individual, Michael Sona, has been charged in relation to the scandal. allegedly attempted to remove the ballot box from a polling station at the University of Guelph in 2011. However, Keefer says that Sona is the only person of significance in the Marty Burke campaign who could not be responsible. He pointed to the fact that immunity was given for testimony again Sona and that he did not have access to the CIMS database while others did. Sona maintains his innocence claiming that he has been made a scapegoat in this case. He is also the individual who allegedly attempted to steal the ballot box at a polling station at the University of Guelph.

There was also discussion about the lack of adequate investigation into electoral fraud. Elections Canada lacks the power to issue court orders and corruption has been reported in the RCMP. A prime example is when whistle blowers from Responsive Marketing Group went to the RCMP and Elections Canada in February 2012 to report suspicious calls that they were asked to make. The next day senior people were sent to go through the records from the Conservative Party, while Elections Canada officials investigated a week later and found no incriminating records.

It was also noted that although Guelph was a targeted riding, Liberal MP Frank Valeriote was still able to win the election. Keefer stated that this was due to a number of factors. Guelph is a very politically engaged community, shown by the two vote mobs organized by University of Guelph student in response to Rick Mercer's call for increased youth voter turnout. The Conservative Party also made several missteps in the city, as Marty Burke failed to attend many talks and they attempted to shut down a ballot at the University.

Michael Keefer's talk was very enlightening and revealed many facts from the 2011 voter suppression scandal. It is disturbing the damage this scandal has inflicted on Canada's democratic system and electoral process. It is equally upsetting the lack of adequate investigation into and awareness of facts in these cases. Journalists have been responsible for uncovering much of the valuable information in these cases.