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Online form letters behind 'majority' of 31,000 robo-call complaints

Protesters take the streets in downtown Toronto on March 11, 2012 in response to the widening robo-call election scandal.

Chris Young/Chris Young/Reuters

Elections Canada says the bulk of the 31,000 messages it's received from Canadians concerning fraudulent robo-calls in the 2011 ballot were merely form letters.

"The majority of those contacts were made via automated forms or online form letters," agency spokesman John Enright said Monday.

Form letters such as those generated by activist website Leadnow.ca – which encourages Canadians to submit them – do not spell out an allegation about specific robo-calls but merely raise concern about the subject.

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Elections Canada refuses to say how many of the calls or emails it received from Canadians on election period calls were dedicated to reporting specific complaints of fraud or harassment.

Mr. Enright said the election watchdog also heard from Canadians calling to follow up on existing or past complaints – as well as voters calling to raise general concern.

Separately Monday, the Conservatives tried to turn the tables on opposition attacks over fraudulent robo-calls in Guelph by hammering the Liberals over automated calls made by Grit candidate Frank Valeriote during the 2011 campaign.

The anti-Conservative robo-call in Guelph surfaced at the end of last week and the Liberals have publicly acknowledged they were behind it.

The recorded message does not tell listeners it was funded by the Valeriote campaign.

"The member for Guelph paid for illegal robo-calls that concealed the fact that calls came from his Liberal campaign," Dean Del Mastro, parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister alleged in the Commons.

"They broke the CRTC regulations; they broke Elections Canada laws."

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Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae dismissed the accusation against Mr. Valeriote and called for a royal commission to investigate allegations of fraudulent robo-calls across dozens of ridings in the 2011 election.

"I can assure the honourable member nobody on this side has anything to fear from a royal commission," Mr. Rae said. "We ask for it, we demand it, and the people of Canada require it."

The recorded message – circulated to the media by Conservatives in recent days –  attacked Guelph Tory candidate Marty Burke as anti-choice on abortion.

Conservatives accuse the Liberals of deliberately obscuring the fact they were behind the call, a charge the Grits deny.

The message says Mr. Burke believes "that under absolutely no circumstance should a women have the right to choose" to have an abortion.

"Government should not be able to force their beliefs on to me," the woman delivering the recorded anti-Conservative message said. "The race in Guelph is very close. Vote strategically on Monday to protect our hard earned rights from the Conservatives and Marty's extreme views."

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The call does not mention who paid for it. Mr. Valeriote has acknowledged the automated message should have identified it was funded by his campaign. His staff said, however, that he claimed it on his expenses for the political race.

Conservatives allege Mr. Valeriote violated Section 320 of the Election Act but the Liberals dispute this.

Elections Canada refuses to say whether the Valeriote ad violated the act but says any election advertising message made during a campaign must mention that "its transmission was authorized by the official agent of the candidate or by the registered agent of the party."

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About the Author
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

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