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Elections Canada's rulings secret on 2,284 complaints since 2004

Federal politicians continue to fail to ensure key good government watchdogs are doing their jobs properly

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch released its analysis of Elections Canada’s enforcement of the Canada Elections Act since 2004, revealing that the main problem is no one can tell whether Elections Canada has been enforcing the law fairly and properly because it has failed to report details of how it has investigated and ruled on 2,284 complaints in the past seven years.

All federal politicians who have served on the committees that have, at least once each year since 2004, questioned the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada have been negligent by failing to notice and question this huge gap in Elections Canada’s reports.

“Fair elections are a cornerstone of democracy, and part of what Canada’s veterans fought to guarantee in past wars.  But here we are 144 years since Canada became a so-called democracy and no one can tell whether Elections Canada is enforcing the federal election law fairly and properly because it has kept secret its investigations and rulings on more than 2,280 complaints since 2004,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. 

“Federal MPs have to stop being so negligent and start demanding regular, detailed reports about what all the key federal good government watchdogs are doing, and not doing,” said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch.

Because of the failure of MPs, former federal Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet hid her negligently weak enforcement record from 2007 to 2010, as did federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd from 2007 to spring 2011 (and her predecessor Michael Nelson from 2004 to 2007).  And the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner continues to hide details about her dangerously weak enforcement record because MPs continue to fail to ask her key questions.

In a February 16, 2011 letter sent to the chairs of six House committees and other key Senate and Privy Council and Cabinet officials, seven Officers of Parliament (including Elections Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand) urged House and Senate committees to watch the watchdogs more closely to ensure they are doing their jobs properly.

However, in recent House committee hearings at which the Chief Electoral Officer, federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, and federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd have appeared, MPs on the committees have failed to ask them key questions about how and whether they are doing their jobs properly.

The details of Democracy Watch’s analysis of Elections Canada’s reports on the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 elections are as follows:
  • Overall, 4,211 complaints were received by Elections Canada since 2004.  Elections Canada provides at least a summary in its post-election reports of how 1,927 complaints were resolved (1,874 of these were summarized in Elections Canada's report on the 2011 election, 43 on its Compliance Agreements webpage, and 10 on its Sentencing Digest webpage).  However, Elections Canada has not provided any details about how 2,284 complaints received since 2004 were resolved. 
  • It is likely that Elections Canada has received many other complaints about which it has never issued public reports or rulings, as the above totals are only about election-related complaints;
  • A total of 1,334 complaints were filed with Elections Canada in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 federal elections;
  • Elections Canada’s October 2004 report on the 2004 election (Enforcement section) stated that 505 complaints had been received, 389 had been resolved, and 116 remained open;
  • Its May 2006 report on the 2006 election (section 4.2.4 Electoral Law Enforcement) stated that 329 complaints had been received, 231 had been resolved, and 98 remained open;
  • However, Elections Canada provided no details in either the 2004 or 2006 report about any of the complaints, whether resolved or still open;
  • In both its 2004 and 2006 reports (in the sections cited above), Elections Canada claims that: "As the cases progress, updated statistics on complaints, investigations and prosecutions appear in the Chief Electoral Officer's periodic reports and publications, as well as on the Elections Canada Web site".  No updated statistics have appeared in any of the CEO’s reports or publications, nor on its website.
  • In its February 2009 report on the 2008 election (section 2.10 Electoral Law Enforcement), Elections Canada stated that 500 complaints had been received, but did not provide any details about the number of complaints resolved or still open;
  • In its August 2011 report on the 2011 federal election, Elections Canada did better by including a chart that categorized the 1,872 complaints it had received about accessibility problems (Report on accessibility subsection of section 2.4), and summarized how they had been resolved.  Elections Canada also provided a summary of two situations about which it had received 2,956 emails (about interference in an advance poll in Guelph, Ontario), and 700 emails (about a radio interview during the blackout period just before election day);
  • However, its 2011 report provided no details about 1,003 other complaints Elections Canada received (Electoral law enforcement subsection of section 2.4), nor any details about how they had been investigated or what rulings had been issued.
  • On the Compliance Agreements page of its website, Elections Canada lists only 43 compliance agreements reached since 2004, and;
  • On the Sentencing Digest page of its website, Elections Canada lists only 10 convictions since 2004.
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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

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© 2011 Democracy Watch