'Call me crazy but I thought we were Canada the Good': robocalls complainant
A demonstrator protests against the "robocalls" scandal in this file photo.
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:56PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 21, 2012 8:02PM EST
OTTAWA -- Sandra McEwing is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore.
The Winnipeg mom is one of eight private citizens challenging the May 2011 federal election results in six closely contested ridings where someone tried to influence voters with misleading phone calls. The civil suit goes to trial in Ottawa next month.
"I had no idea that Canadian politics was so vulnerable to such underhanded behaviour," McEwing said Wednesday after describing a phoney, automated "Elections Canada" call to her home saying her polling station had moved.
"I mean, call me crazy, but I thought we were Canada the Good. Who sits around and comes up with ideas to trick me out of my vote? I'm just about apoplectic."
McEwing and Peggy Walsh Craig of North Bay, Ont., appeared at a news conference in Ottawa with Gary Neil, the executive director of the left-leaning Council of Canadians, which is supporting the court challenge.
Their argument, supported chiefly by a poll that attempted to statistically model the incidence and impact of misleading calls, seeks to have the election of six Conservative MPs overturned and new byelections called.
The suit is parallel to -- and unsupported by -- an ongoing Elections Canada investigation into fraudulent robocalls.
Needless to say, lawyers for the six government MPs are hotly contesting the suit -- not least because none of the eight applicants actually failed to cast a ballot in the 2011 vote as a result of the ruse.
The applicants want to overturn federal election results "using nothing more than statistics and argument," states the memorandum of fact filed in Federal Court this week by Conservative lawyers.
The factum states that "the applicants seek to imply fraud in the air, leading only indirect and hearsay evidence, alleged against no one in particular ... in hopes the court will accept the fraud as proven fact -- and one that is, moreover, so compelling and drastic as to justify the disenfranchisement of nearly a quarter of a million Canadians."
Given the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Conservative MP Ted Opitz, whose close-fought 2011 election win was upheld despite proven procedural problems, the civil suit would appear to be a legal long shot.
Walsh Craig, who also says she received a fake Elections Canada call in a riding where the Conservative MP won by just 18 votes, says there's a more fundamental principle at stake.
"Most people think the battle for democracy was won by previous generations and that we really don't have to do anything more about preserving democracy," she said.
"I think there are significant threats in our time and in our country to democracy."
It's a point that can get lost in the partisan mud-slinging in Ottawa, where the governing Conservatives have been on the defensive for months over allegations the fraud worked in their favour and had links to their party.
The clearly fraudulent calls have become mixed up with other voter-contact calls by all political parties, some of which also broke the rules.
Rather than addressing the substance of opposition charges, MP Pierre Poilievre -- the designated Conservative point man fielding robocalls questions in the House of Commons -- tends to deflect and attack back.
It's a tried and true method for defusing controversy, but has the unfortunate side effect of making the Conservatives appear unconcerned about real electoral fraud.
Indeed, a Liberal private members' bill to allow the chief electoral officer to challenge election results and impose tougher fines for offences was voted down by the Conservative majority Wednesday night in the House of Commons.
One indisputable fact stands clear: Some cheater pretending to be Elections Canada contacted voters in select ridings across Canada on or just before election day and told them their polling station had changed.
While McEwing had already voted in an advance poll when the misleading call came to her Winnipeg home, her 18-year-old son had not.
"It really makes me angry that someone's trying to misdirect my son in his first election," said McEwing.
She believes there is value in her civil suit, even if it is ultimately tossed out of Federal Court.
The case has revealed the extent of data mining being done by political parties, said McEwing, and the possibility they might "find ways to keep you from voting."
"I think now there's a possibility that somebody might go, 'Hey, I need to protect my right to vote, it's not going to come automatically, somebody might try to misdirect me or misinform me."'
"Who would conceive of such a thing? But now, here it is."