Professor Emeritus sheds light on 2011 "Robocall" Scandal

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • Guelph community members rallies against election voter suppression in 2012.

    Guelph community members rallies against election voter suppression in 2012.

Written by Peter Miller

Photo courtesy of Denise Martins. 

Michael Keefer is a professor emeritus from the University of Guelph. He has written about electoral fraud in the U.S. Elections, Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and one of his most recent publications is, AntiSemitism: Real and Imagined.

Presently, Keefer is working on a book that discusses the widespread vote suppression and telephone fraud during the 2011 Federal Election. Keefer’s 10 Chapter book will likely be called, Sabotaging Democracy: 'Robocall' Vote Suppression in Canada's May 2, 2011 Election.

On Thursday, March 13, Keefer spoke at an event in Mackinnon 120 about his research on vote suppression in Canada. OPIRG Guelph hosted the event and Tim Mau, a professor from the Department of Political Science, introduced Michael Keefer.

During the discussion, Keefer emphasized that voter fraud in Canada is very rare. However, the Conservatives in power are looking to pass legislation with the Fair Elections Act that will make it harder for people to vote in elections in Canada by eliminating vouching and getting rid of voter information cards (VICs). 

In the last election there was a “robocall” scandal. Fraudulent phone calls were made to harass Canadians and occurred in the weeks leading up to the election. For these phone calls someone would often impersonate a member of a campaign team they were not a part of.

The harassing phone calls were made late in the night or during religious holidays, pretending to represent opposition campaigns to frustrate citizens who, according to the Conservative Party database, were supporters of the opposition. The calls were a tactic used to weaken support for parties other than the Conservative Party.

The majority of the robocalls occurred during election period.

“These were fraudulent calls designed to suppress the vote of opposition supporters by impersonating officials from election Canada,” Keefer said. The impersonators often lied telling people the vote station had moved in order to suppress the vote.

“My best estimate is that there were between 820,000 and 980,000 fraudulent phone calls,” Keefer said. These phone calls occurred in 240 of 308 ridings in Canada, and Guelph was one of the main focus areas that received the phone calls.

“Something like 2.3 percent of Canadian voters received fraudulent phone calls; either harassment calls or voter suppression calls,” Keefer added.

The Conservative Party improved their election results from these phone calls because the calls focused on suppressing the vote of opposition party supporters.

Michael Sona, a former University of Guelph student who was involved in the Marty Burke’s Conservative Party campaign in Guelph has been charged in voter suppression. However, public information available in the media points to evidence that Sona did not have access to the Conservative Party voter database that was used to suppress opposition voters, according to Keefer.

Keefer believes there is no way that only one person from the riding of Guelph could have organized all the voter suppression phone calls by himself.

“My guess is that probably, the Tories got up to half of 1 percent of a bump through voter suppression trickery,” he said.

There is evidence that the fraudulent phone calls may have secured the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary majority.  For Keefer, it is hard to believe that people high up in the Conservative Party did not organize the fraudulent phone calls and Prime Minister Harper did not know about the vote suppression. Harper is known for micromanaging the Conservative Party.

“The single fact that they were gaming the system in such a manner should be enough to believe that these people should not be in the House of Commons let alone running the country,” Keefer stated about the Conservative Party.

For Keefer, the calls not only point to corruption in Canada’s ruling party but also corruption in the RCMP. The RCMP refused to investigate the well-documented claims of telephone fraud.

As well, elections Canada lacked the power and political will to properly investigate the robocalls. For instance, Keefer noted that Elections Canada did not have the power to issue a court order to make sure that records of the "robocalls" could not be destroyed at a Thunderbay call centre employed by the fraudsters. 

 He pointed out that the Fair Elections Act moves the official responsible for investigating elections fraud out of independent Elections Canada and into the public service that will report to the Minister of Justice. This means the Government will have a role to play in investigating voter fraud, even though there is a conflict of interest for the Federal Government to do so.  

The election fraud is similar to trends in the United States. In 2004, there is evidence that the Republican Party won the election from voter machine fraud.

Keefer wants Canadians to be informed about how voter suppression tactics have moved north. He needs to write two more chapters to finish his book on voter suppression.





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