More On The Right And Wrong Of Robocalls

I can’t say that this comes as much of a surprise.

The Guelph Mercury has reported that Marty Burke has filed a complaint with Elections Canada over the robocalls made by Frank Valeriote around the same time as somebody was blatantly misleading the public.

Commissioner of Canada Elections                                                                                                                                                                        c/o
Elections Canada                                                                                          

Dear Commissioner, 

I wish to file an official complaint with your office concerning an incident that happened in the Guelph EDA during the 41st Federal Election.

On April 30, 2011 a recorded voice message was sent to an unknown number of Guelph residents. The actual transcript of the voice message:

“Hi, I’m Laurie MacDonald of Guelph.  I’m appalled by what I read in the Mercury today.  I’ve been an advocate for women’s rights for most of my life. Conservative candidate Marty Burke believes that under absolutely no circumstance should a woman have a right to choose.

Government should not be able to force their beliefs onto me.  We live in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society.  Let’s move forward and not back.

The race in Guelph is very close, vote strategically on Monday to protect our hard earned rights from the Conservatives and Marty’s extreme views.”

I believe this message violates Section 320 of the elections act in that it does not indicate “in or on the message that its transmission was authorized by the official agent of the candidate or by the registered agent of the party”. In other words, it was a deliberate attempt to sway voters away from the Conservative Party while remaining anonymous. 

Secondly, under the CRTC Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules (which are applicable in elections), such calls “shall display the originating telecommunications number or an alternate telecommunications number where the telecommunication originator can be reached”.  The number displayed 226-209-3758 had no call back capability and no other number was provided maintaining anonymity.  

Finally, the CRTC rules state such calls cannot be made on weekends after 6 p.m. There is some question as to whether some or all of the calls were made before or after this time but I believe it does bear investigation. 

 In early March, Guelph resident Greg Schirk, who received the message last April 30th, sent the original voice mail message to the Guelph Mercury newspaper. They subsequently published a story on this revelation.

Only after this event was made public did the local federal Liberal campaign admit that they had created and transmitted the message. 

The clear intent of this Liberal Party authorized message was to slur myself and the Conservative Party in the hopes of discouraging votes for the Conservative Party. This was done without indicating it was a Liberal Party message, with no call back ability to check the origin, and possibly outside the time period in which these types of calls are allowed.  The Liberal campaign also admitted the name “Laurie MacDonald” was fictitious- apparently another attempt to cover their tracks.

With these telephone calls, we are left to wonder how extensively they were sent and how much did they affect the Guelph election outcome. Their timing coming less than two days before the election, their content designed to inflame people, and their devious anonymity maximizes their impact.             

I respectfully request that your offices investigate to determine whether an offence or offences occurred under the Elections Canada Act or the CRTC rules attached to the act due to these recorded voice messages. 

I am available to assist in any way possible.  

Marty Burke

I want to be clear here especially in light of a conversation I just had with Cam Guthrie who, it should be noted, was good enough to take the time to respond where many wouldn’t/haven’t. If these calls are found to be illegal and he knew it, then Frank should absolutely be held to account for them to whatever extent the law allows. What’s wrong is wrong, no matter who commits the act. But the key word here is if, and in every aspect of this there is at least some room for doubt. To this point it can’t be said for certain when the calls were made, so a violation of CRTC time regulations isn’t a slam dunk. And as for violations of the Elections Act, there’s this, which seems to be getting overlooked.

Valeriote said the reason for the automated calls was both to correct what the Conservative party allegedly said about him, and to point out where Burke stood on the issue.

“This was an issue-based, legal voice blast to correct the lies from others that were said about my position on abortion,” Valeriote said, referring to calls and literature allegedly distributed by the Conservative party.

“People were coming into my office furious that they were saying I was pro abortion. I am not pro abortion,” he said, adding he believes women have the right to choose.

Since Friday, Valeriote has been criticized over not mentioning the calls were funded by his Liberal campaign.

“It was an oversight on our part to not name where the call had come from,” he said, adding however, he claimed it on his expenses for the political campaign and informed Elections Canada about the calls.

He said Elections Canada told him “they didn’t think it was a violation of the Elections Act.”

Elections Canada was not available on the weekend to confirm this.

I don’t think I’m out of line based on our chat to say that Guthrie is in the camp that absolutely believes that a violation took place, but if I am he can feel free to correct me. He has his right to that opinion, and he may ultimately turn out to be correct. But if there’s a hint that Elections Canada advised the Valeriote campaign that its actions were ok, I’m not willing to throw the guy under the bus. What he did might not have been the smartest thing especially with the benefit of hindsight, but stupid doesn’t always equal illegal. Plus there’s the matter of these calls being documented and reported, whereas the fake polling calls were not. Wrong is wrong, but there’s still a huge matter of scale between Valeriote’s campaign message and a deliberate attempt to manipulate election results by stripping rights away from the public. Personally, I’d rather wait for Elections Canada and the CRTC to make their decisions before I pronounce Frank Valeriote guilty of anything other than playing politics.

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