OTTAWA – Canada’s chief electoral officer is confirming for the first time that Conservative party workers have failed to co-operate with his investigation of fraudulent robocalls.
Marc Mayrand appeared before a House of Commons committee Tuesday where he asked MPs once again for legal changes that would give the elections watchdog greater power to compel testimony from witnesses.
Elections Canada has been recommending greater investigative powers since 2010, without government movement.
“Indeed, the investigations into deceptive calls have made us keenly aware that the Commissioner of Canada Elections needs better tools to do his work,” Mayrand said in his prepared remarks to the procedure and House affairs committee.
“Good rules are of little use if they cannot be enforced.”
Under questioning from NDP MP Craig Scott, Mayrand confirmed media reports that the Conservative party’s lawyer took three months to respond to robocalls inquiries from Elections Canada after the 2011 election campaign — an investigation that is still ongoing.
Mayrand declined to comment on a recent Federal Court judgment in which Judge Richard Mosley sharply criticized Conservative party legal tactics in a civil case concerning fraudulent 2011 campaign calls.
“I think we’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions from the judgment of Justice Mosley, which speaks for itself,” said Mayrand.
However speaking to reporters later, Mayrand cited evidence that three Conservative campaign workers in Guelph, Ont., refused to speak to investigators and that scheduled meetings were cancelled at the last minute.
Under changes proposed by Elections Canada, the investigating commissioner’s office could get a court order compelling witnesses to consent to an interview.
Mayrand said that when individuals refuse to speak to investigators, it can’t always be characterized as refusing to co-operate.
“What would concern me is if we detected a pattern where people systematically refuse to meet with investigators — even though they are not suspect, I should point out.”
So does he see a pattern? Mayrand was asked.
“I think there are cases, I think in Guelph there were a few cases that are now publicly documented and it is a concern that certainly the commissioner has expressed,” the chief electoral officer replied.
“And that’s why we are putting forward those recommendations.”
“Basically, in some cases appointments are cancelled at the last minute. People who have agreed suddenly decide they don’t want to meet with the investigator. That adds time, delays, and makes the investigation a little bit more complex than it needed be.”
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski expressed concern during the committee hearing about the toll the ongoing investigation is taking on his party.
Those concerns have been ratcheted up by last Thursday’s Federal Court ruling, which implicated the Conservative party’s Constituent Information Management System database, or CIMS.
The judgment, hailed as a victory by the Conservative party and the Council of Canadians alike, ruled the “most likely source of the information used to make the misleading phone calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the (Conservative Party of Canada), accessed for that purpose by a person or persons unknown to this court.”
Mosley stated there was “no evidence to indicate that the use of the CIMS database in this manner was approved or condoned by the (party).”
“Rather, the evidence points to elaborate efforts to conceal the identity of those accessing the database and arranging for the calls to be made.”
Mayrand agreed with Lukiwski that the delays in getting to the bottom of the fraudulent robocalls is problematic, but said the lack of co-operation is where it starts.
“Again if we go back to this issue of justice delayed, just denied, well, that’s where it starts, among other things.”