After weeks of Conservative pundits telling us that Ted Opitz should keep his seat because there was no evidence of vote fraud in Etobicoke Centre, CBC has shown the value of a competitive media sector by releasing details of two Elections Canada investigation reports into what appears to have been an attempt by Opitz’s campaign manager Roman Gawur to shut down a polling station in a seniors’ home. That station, according to Liberal candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj, was “always one of the strongest for him.”
In a sense these findings are irrelevant. The judge has already ruled that, whatever the cause, there are enough votes in the Etobicoke Centre riding which were not cast and registered legally that the outcome is in question and therefore a by-election must be held. There was a great deal of, frankly, utter falsehoods about this ruling in the media and the blogsphere, ranging from the idea that the judge ruled there that vote fraud did not occur (wrong) to the claim that judge Tom Lederer is a liberal activist judge (unlikely, given that he was appointed by Harper). I tried to address these concerns in a summary of the ruling.
Nevertheless, this information is extremely important. Elections Canada apparently thought so, too — enough to produce a report on the subject, but not enough to take any legal action. Gawur is accused of showing up at the poll, demanding that it be shut down on spurious grounds, and “screaming and waving his arms… raging in a bullying fashion.” Gawur disagrees, saying he was “calm” the whole time. Both sides agreed that while this performance was going on, the poll was temporarily shut down in disorder, the result being that at least some seniors who were waiting for a bus left the poll and didn’t vote.
On its own, this is a strange one-off story. I assume it was taken out of the original legal challenge because it would be hard to prove exactly how many votes were suppressed, even harder to prove actual intent, and, more to the point, it wasn’t needed because they had even stronger evidence of flimflammery in the form of several dozen mystery votes cast by people whose registration paperwork subsequently vanished — if it was ever filled out to begin with — and for whom signatures were not properly recorded in the poll book.
But this isn’t a one-off story. Last spring, there were widespread reports of another Conservative insider, Guelph candidate Marty Burke’s communications director Michael Sona, showing up at a university polling station and trying to shut it down. That time too there were great disagreements about what happened: some witnesses claimed Sona was brash and attempted to seize the ballot box, while Sona himself insisted that he remained very calm and simply raised questions about whether the polling station was legal.
These two incidents were reported because the people who were present thought it relevant to bring up. But it’s worth wondering exactly how many polling stations Conservative staffers tried to shut down during the last election. I am not at all interested in hearing responses that the Conservatives were just conducting some necessary vigilante justice, roaming their constituency in search of illegal polls and trying to shut them down for the good of democracy. Neither of these polls were illegal, and judging from the reports, in the unlikely event that the Conservatives didn’t know this, they could very easily have found out in a quieter and less disruptive manner than storming the polling station and attempting to shut down voting while they challenged the returning officer.
In the Guelph case, after Sona was chased away, the Conservatvies filed a complaint asking for all the student votes to be voided. It didn’t work, of course. And when the complaint got tossed out on its ear, in true Orwellian fashion the Conservatives immediately issued a press release “applauding the decision not to disenfranchise University of Guelph students” because “these student voters should not suffer because of mistakes by the local election officials.”Tweet