Phone linked to robocalls registered to 'Pierre Poutine'
Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:19PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:35AM EDT
A "burner" cellphone linked to the growing robocalls scandal was registered to a man named "Pierre Poutine" who lived on "Separatist Street" in Joliette, Que., court documents show.
The fictional name and address were used to cover the trail of whoever was behind a series of automated phone calls that allegedly attempted to mislead voters in the last election, Elections Canada's investigator states in court documents.
Opposition parties claim turnout may have been affected by the calls, when either pre-recorded messages or live callers informed voters of changes that hadn't actually occurred.
The RCMP and Elections Canada are looking into reports that automated calls were made in as many as 18 ridings, though opposition parties claim 34 ridings were affected.
Among those is a riding in Guelph, Ont., where voters reported getting calls from a phone number with a 450 area code directing them to the wrong polling station.
Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews said that phone records obtained in his investigation show that the phone number behind the Guelph calls was the same one that was registered to "Pierre Poutine."
And the records also show evidence that the phone registered to Pierre Poutine had made to calls to an Edmonton-based company called RackNine Inc. Those calls occurred on April 30 and May 1, the documents show.
RackNine has said that an unknown person used its automatic dialing service, and it's doing all it can to help with the probe. The company is not suspected of having committed any offences and is not subject to the investigation.
The phone records are included in an Information to Obtain a Production Order that was filed in an Edmonton court last November. The claims haven't been proven in court.
The records also show phone numbers associated with Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke and the Guelph riding association made a total of 32 calls to RackNine between March 26 and early May.
"I think it is reasonable to believe that some sort of consumer relationship existed between the Marty Burke Conservative campaign in Guelph for the 41st general election and RackNine Inc., or between certain Burke campaign workers and RackNine Inc.," Mathews writes in the court documents.
"(And) that this relationship was related to the general election campaign in Guelph; and that the relationship related to the misleading calls made to Guelph area electors which they perceived as coming from the phone number."
But who is behind the calls and the messages contained within them remains a mystery.
In its Elections Canada return, the Burke campaign lists no reports of business dealings with RackNine.
Still, the return lists payments of $6,215 to Campaign Research and an additional $15,000 to Responsive Marketing Group. Both companies are known for providing similar services to those available at RackNine.
"I believe that the individual(s) behind the misleading calls which are the subject of this investigation would not want a local campaign to be identified with the calls, as they amount to improper activity, and consequently I believe that any expense would likely be omitted from a campaign return," Mathews says.
The Poutine revelations came a day after MPs agreed to co-operate with investigators probing allegations of election campaign impropriety.
"The prime minister must release all information about the phone calls made on behalf of the Conservatives by these companies," interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel demanded during Tuesday's question period.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly said the opposition should bring forward evidence for its allegations.
Last Friday, it was revealed that 23-year-old Conservative staffer Michael Sona, who had worked on Burke's campaign in Guelph during the election, was no longer working for the party.
On Tuesday, he told CTV News: "I had no involvement in the fraudulent phone calls," and added that he hopes the "real guilty party" is caught.
Tories stand behind campaign
Taking umbrage with the suggestion Conservatives are not taking responsibility, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro noted that his party held meetings on the issue Monday.
Besides, Del Mastro said, the party stands behind its campaign tactics.
"We absolutely made calls to make sure that our supporters knew that their voting locations had changed," he said, noting that 127 polling locations shifted ahead of election day.
"So we absolutely called people. We make no apologies for that. We would expect that all parties would do the same."
Echoing the prime minister's remarks in the House of Commons Monday, De Mastro said anyone with evidence of wrongdoing should submit it to the investigators at Elections Canada.
Members of his party have already done so, Del Mastro said, even if there's confusion over the nature of the phone calls.
While Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae suggests the tactic amounts to "voter suppression," Del Mastro is waiting for the RCMP and Elections Canada investigators to report their findings.
On Monday, Rae suggested that the Liberals may attempt to have results in some ridings overturned.
In particular, he cited the riding of Etobicoke Centre, which he said "is being litigated right now, and will be in court at the end of April."
In that riding, Conservative Ted Opitz beat Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj after a recount put the Tory on top by 26 votes.
With files from The Canadian Press