First published in the Two Row Times (16 April 2014), http://www.tworowtimes.com/news/regional/law-and-order-mr-harper-first-lets-put-an-end-to-tory-election-fraud/. The notes in the present version did not appear in that text.
The Harper Government—as our Prime Minister modestly likes it to be called—has been showing its teeth during the past several years.
In 2011, though crime rates in Canada had been steadily declining, we were presented with an omnibus crime bill, numbered C-10. Responding to a nonexistent crime wave, this bill set about turning Canada into a prison state on the model of the US, with measures including mandatory minimum sentences that legal experts guaranteed would victimize the vulnerable, overwhelm the courts and legal aid systems, fill to overflowing even the big new jails the government proposed to build, and increase the already scandalous proportion of First Nations people behind bars.
Now we have another Bill C-10, the “Tackling Contraband Tobacco Act,” which targets First Nations directly, offering a toxic recipe of kick-down-the-door-policing, incarceration, economic stagnation, and welfare dependence. Both law-and-order bills have been accompanied by government fear-mongering—including, in the present case, a billboard campaign in major cities that blames gun violence on the illicit tobacco trade. (This happens to be untrue, as a recent monograph by Professor Jean Daudelin of Carleton University makes clear.)1
In between the two Bill C-10s we've had Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that attacked the land and resource base of First Nations, enabling the surrender of reserve lands without majority support, stripping environmental protections from Canada's lakes and rivers, and also, as environmental lawyer Jessica Clogg observes, defying the Supreme Court's requirement that governments should engage honourably with First Nations over land and resource decisions.2
Rammed through the House of Commons, with spin-doctoring and false advertising substituted for the normal democratic procedure of careful study by committees and full parliamentary debate, bills like these have been made possible by one simple thing: the fact that in the election of May 2, 2011 Stephen Harper and his party won majority-government status.
But here's another simple fact that Canadians have to confront: the Harper Conservatives appear to have won that parliamentary majority by fraud.
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Whenever he's asked a question in the House of Commons on the subject of the so-called robocalls scandal of the 2011 election, Harper repeats the same mantra: We know that one or two bad eggs sent out illegal phone calls in Guelph; we're keen to see them punished; and any suggestion that the Conservative Party was to blame is a vicious smear.
Mr Harper is not telling the truth.
There were in fact two campaigns of fraudulent phone calls in the 2011 election—both of them set in motion and coordinated, not by some rogue operative scarcely out of short pants, but by an organization with national reach. That organization was the Conservative Party.
The first set of fraudulent calls, which pretended to come from Liberal Party offices, harassed Liberal supporters across Canada during the last two weeks of the campaign: they woke people in the middle of the night, and pestered Christians on Easter morning and Jews on the Sabbath. They were often rude, and sometimes racist—and there's little doubt that they contributed to the decline in Liberal support.
The second set of fraudulent calls began at the end of the campaign, first with live-operator calls, and then with a surge of robocalls on May 1 and on election day, May 2. These calls gave opposition-party supporters false information about the location of their polling stations, with the aim of suppressing opposition-party turnout; and the robocalls claimed to be from Elections Canada.
On April 29, 2011, when complaints about these vote-suppression calls began pouring in to its offices, Elections Canada knew that the Conservative Party was responsible, because the live-operator calls included call-back numbers which led directly to Conservative Party offices.
The fraudulent robocalls came from the same source. Early in 2012, a CBC investigation and an Ekos Research poll found a pattern in which people who had identified themselves to Conservative voter-identification callers as non-supporters subsequently received vote-suppression calls. Because all information from voter-ID calls goes straight into the Conservative Party's central database, known as the Constituent Information Management System (CIMS), this was an indication that the fraudsters had used CIMS nationwide.
In the riding of Guelph—the only one in which there has been anything approaching a full investigation—the Conservative Party's central office has acknowledged to Elections Canada that the CIMS list of non-Conservatives in Guelph was used by Edmonton voice-broadcaster RackNine in sending out the infamous 'Pierre Poutine' robocalls on the morning of election day. Elections Canada has evidence that a team of five Guelph Conservatives had repeated surreptitious access both to CIMS and to RackNine, and that one of them shared an IP address with 'Pierre Poutine', and Elections Canada has a recording of a harassment call that the operatives sent to RackNine at the end of the campaign but decided not to use.
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What about the scale and impact of the fraud?
During our last federal election, Harper's Conservatives tried to cheat supporters of opposition parties out of their right to vote with fraudulent phone calls—more than a million of them—that were received by voters in 261 ridings across Canada. There's strong evidence that this fraud tipped the balance in enough close races to give Harper his parliamentary majority.
That raises urgent questions. What right does a ruling party that broke the law on this scale have to ram its extremist legislation through parliament? What right do these fraudsters have to lecture Canadians and First Nations people about law and order?
1 See Jean Daudelin, with Stephanie Soiffer and Jeff Willows, Border Integrity, Illicit Tobacco, and Canada's Security (Ottawa: Macdonald-Laurier Institute, 2013), http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MLIBorder-Integrity-Illicit-Tobacco-Canadas-Security.pdf. Daudelin says that present policies, which amount to “focussed deterrence,” with severe punishment of “mixed smuggling” (involving drugs, guns, or people, along with tobacco), provide “the most plausible explanation for the remarkable absence of 'mixed smuggling' in CBSA and RCMP seizures” (p. 27). See also Wayne K. Spear, “First Nations Need Tobacco More Than Harper's Law and Order,” Huffington Post (20 February 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/wayne-k-spear/bill-c-10-first-nations_b_4820185.html.
2 An interview with Jessica Clogg is posted at West Coast Environmental Law (4 March 2013), http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/jessica-clogg-explains-bill-c-45-first-nations-rights-fipa.