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Elections Canada targets PayPal records in robo-calls probe

Protesters take part in a robocall protest on Parliament Hills in Ottawa on Monday, March 5, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Elections Canada's hunt for the identity of the political operative behind robo-calls designed to misdirect voters in Guelph has led the watchdog to records at PayPal Canada, a company that handles online payments and money transfers.

Investigators for Elections Canada have used a court order in an attempt to get PayPal to hand over information sought for their probe into the southwestern Ontario riding.

They have been trying to unmask the person behind the alias "Pierre Poutine," whom the election watchdog alleges was connected to the Conservative campaign in Guelph and used an off-the-books scheme to discourage opposition voters from casting ballots last May.

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"PayPal has been served a production order in regards to the Elections Canada investigation," company spokeswoman Martha Cass said Monday.

Production orders are court orders to turn over documents.

The company said it is co-operating with the probe but declined to elaborate.

"PayPal is working to support this investigation, but also adheres to a strict privacy policy to protect the confidential information of our users. As a result, we cannot provide additional comment on this investigation," Ms. Cass said.

Elections Canada is sorting through more than 31,000 contacts from Canadians voicing concern about allegedly fraudulent calls during the May 2, 2011, election campaign – calls designed to suppress the vote by alienating or misdirecting voters.

It is also investigating who called Guelph voters directing them to the wrong polling station on election day, a measure that the watchdog says caused chaos at the ballot box.

Court filings related to Elections Canada's search at PayPal have not been made public yet.

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It is not precisely clear what Elections Canada hoped to learn from PayPal but investigators have been trying to trace how "Pierre Poutine" arranged to pay for his activities, including using an Alberta robo-calling firm, RackNine, to send out calls in Guelph.

An Alberta court filing by Elections Canada from Dec. 14, 2011, shows that documents obtained from RackNine late last year included three files concerning a PayPal account and two voice recordings.

That same search at RackNine also turned up files linked to a user named "pierres," including a "finance log" for this customer.

It also unearthed files connected to an "Andrew Prescott." That's the same name as the deputy campaign manager for Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke. Mr. Prescott said last week he purchased RackNine services for legitimate reasons during the campaign.

Elections Canada says in court filings that it does not believe RackNine engaged in suspicious activity.

The controversy over misleading phone calls has persisted for nearly two weeks and the NDP and Liberals allege the problem is far more widespread than Guelph, affecting 40 to 50 ridings.

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The Conservatives say their national campaign bears no responsibility for calls allegedly impersonating Elections Canada and directing voters to the wrong polling station – or calls allegedly impersonating the Liberal Party that appeared designed to alienate voters.

Separately, news came to light Monday that Elections Canada had specifically asked parties not to call voters and direct them to specific polling stations because these locations could be switched just before the ballot.

"Because a polling site can be replaced by another at the last minute, and to ensure that electors always have access to the most accurate information regarding their location, Elections Canada indicated to political parties that the list supplied should only be used for internal purposes and that parties should not direct electors to polling sites," the watchdog said in a report last August.

It said it would have preferred parties refer voters to Elections Canada or their voter-registration cards.

The Conservative Party defended its decision to keep directing voters. "It's our job as a political party to get our supporters out to vote," Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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