Robocall probe didn’t contact Winnipeg riding

Stephen Maher May 12, 2014

Investigators did not speak to the company that placed Conservative get-out-the-vote calls in Winnipeg South Centre, the riding with the second largest number of complaints of deceptive calls in the last election.

Elections Canada issued a report last month after a two-year, $650,000 investigation into reports of dirty political calls across Canada, finding no evidence of “a conspiracy or conspiracies to interfere with the voting process.”

Investigators sorted through complaints from 1,726 voters in 261 ridings. The largest number, 379, were from Guelph, site of the “Pierre Poutine” robocall.

The riding with the second highest number of complaints, 34, was Winnipeg South Centre, where Conservative Joyce Bateman beat Liberal incumbent Anita Neville by 722 votes.

But investigators have never contacted Fabio Esposito, the owner of Dimark Research Inc., the non-partisan Winnipeg company that did the calling for Bateman.

“We have the list of people that we called so if they had the phone numbers of the complaints we could run the numbers,” he said.

Dimark did not tell people their polling stations had moved, Esposito said.

Neville says many voters told her they received misdirection calls, but investigators did not contact her. “I think there was some effort to divert voters in this riding,” she said. “Whether what they did made any difference in the result, I doubt.”

The report provides no details about Winnipeg South Centre, and Elections Canada has declined to provide more information.

Conservatives have hailed the report as proof they did nothing wrong in the last election, but critics are raising questions about the thoroughness of the investigation:

– The agency found no evidence of law-breaking because there was “no discernible pattern of misdirection,” such as a “constellation of predominant calling numbers.”

Simon Rowland, an expert on telephone systems, and a former NDP candidate, who helped Elections Canada investigate the Guelph robocall, says investigators should have realized dialling companies can punch in different numbers.

“For some reason they … didn’t think it was possible to have a central fraud without this,” he said. “This does not follow logically.”

– The report finds that the number most often reported with suspect calls — with 13 complaints — was a number linked to credit-card “phishing” scams, probably a North Dakota number linked to fake Liberal calls.

Rowland says that “would suggest that the company that sent out the call is the exact kind of criminal who would send out a fraud call.”

– Of the 1,726 complainants, 273 didn’t know their phone service provider, so Elections Canada didn’t seek their phone records although there are websites that allow that information to be looked up.

– Investigators did not look into the partisan affiliation of those who received misdirection calls.

They listened to recordings of 126 calls cited by complainants, of which only 61 included a poll location. Of those, more than half — 34 — directed voters to the wrong place.

Investigators also listened to 1,000 randomly selected recordings of Conservative calls. One per cent — 10 calls — were found to misdirect voters.

Sources say the party made millions of calls during the campaign. If one per cent of those calls sent voters to the wrong polling station, tens of thousands of voters were misdirected.

Pollster Frank Graves, who did a random sample of voters in a related federal court case, says investigators should have checked the Conservatives’ CIMS database to see how the recipients were identified. His survey results, which were attacked by the Conservatives, showed opposition supporters received more misdirection calls.

Without knowing who got the calls, the report is meaningless, he said.

If the Conservatives mistakenly called a small number of incorrectly identified opposition supporters, then the calls could be a mistake. If a significant number of opposition supporters received them, then it would not be a mistake, Graves said.

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