Canada’s Watergate? Voter suppression allegations surface

Government officials and police are investigating after allegations surfaced this week of widespread voter suppression tactics in the last Canadian election.

An Ottawa Citizen special report uncovered dozens of complaints from ridings across the country accusing Conservative campaigns of rude and harassing phone calls.

Among the examples are automated phone calls at odd hours (so-called “robocalls”), callers sending voters to wrong or fictitious polling stations, combative callers, callers using offensive accents in ridings with ethnic candidates and calls to Jewish households during supper hour of the Saturday Sabbath.

Liberal campaign workers said they became confused when they started to encounter angered and agitated voters on the campaign trail.

Opposition parties called it's Canada's "Nixonian moment," apparently trying to compare it to the Watergate investigation that led to President Nixon's resignation.

In one of many examples the Citizen uncovered, Liberal candidate Raymond Simard said his volunteers fielded angry phone calls from voters accusing his campaign rude phone calls.

During subsequent stops in the riding of Saint Boniface, Man., the backlash continued.

“The next day, I was knocking on doors, walking through some of our strong (neighborhoods), and some of our people at the doors were saying, “What are you doing here? You guys just called at seven this morning,” he told the Citizen.

The Citizen said calls targeted Liberal Party supporters in competitive ridings.

The federal election happened May 2, and voters complained then of being sent to the wrong polling station by automated phone messages claiming to be from Elections Canada. The Citizen story brought the scope of the allegations forward.

The Conservative government won a majority with 166 of 308 seats.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper disavowed any connection to the phone calls, and said any Conservative party member with knowledge of voter suppression is obliged to report it to Elections Canada or the police.

“Our party has no knowledge of these calls. It’s not part of our campaign,” Harper said, the Globe and Mail reported. “Obviously, if there is anyone who has done anything wrong, we will expect that they will face the full consequences of the law.”

The Liberal Party called for an emergency debate in Parliament.

“There's a very disturbing pattern underway of direct misinformation, essentially lies being phoned in to a variety of ridings,” Liberal leader Bob Rae told CBC. “This isn’t voter suppression; it’s the equivalent of stuffing a ballot box.” 

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