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The heart of the matter: Day two

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"Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote..."

This is a fundamental right granted to us in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the foundation upon which all democratic societies are built.

And it's against the law to mess with it.

But on day two of the landmark legal cases, the Federal Court heard potent evidence that someone did just that in the May 2011 federal election.

Lawyer for the eight applicants, Steven Shrybman, began outlining in detail how an unprecedented campaign of widespread and targeted voter suppression was centrally organized and effective. He said that the campaign affected the outcome of the election in the six ridings and he asked the judge to overturn them.

But Mr. Shrybman led off with an important point of clarification for the court. The applicants do not accuse the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) or any party official of participating in the fraudulent activity. What they argue is that fraud did occur, and it benefitted the CPC.

Up first were the sordid events surrounding "Pierre Poutine," the infamous character widely reported to be the culprit behind voter suppression in the riding of Guelph, ON. Drawing on documents from Elections Canada's investigators, Mr. Shrybman led the court through the sophisticated lengths Pierre Poutine went to in an attempt to suppress the vote of thousands of unsuspecting people through fraudulent calls, and the covert measures he took to conceal his identity and cover his tracks.

In fact, these measures were so successful that it took the Postmedia News report that first broke the robocall scandal (almost a year later) for tens of thousands of Canadian voters -- including the eight applicants -- to put two and two together.

Turning to recently filed documents from Elections Canada investigators, Mr. Shrybman deftly connected the dots between the fraudulent activity in Guelph and evidence that the voter suppression campaign was far more widespread. The most powerful piece of that evidence reveals that Elections Canada is now actively investigating 1,400 complaints in 247 ridings across the country, including many of the six ridings in these legal cases. And one of those complaints comes from an affected voter in the Quebec riding of Rivière-du-Nord, who did not vote as a direct result of having received fraudulent calls. This was also true for Leanne Bielli, the ninth applicant, whose case was withdrawn.

Adding significant weight to this evidence are internal emails between Elections Canada officials obtained by media under federal access to information laws. The emails reveal election officials were alerted to complaints by voters across the country of potentially fraudulent calls over the final days of the 2011 campaign, apparently coming from the CPC. Deeply concerned, the officials contacted CPC lawyer Arthur Hamilton to notify the party of these complaints.

Mr. Shrybman then moved to the testimony of RMG, a telemarketing firm that makes calls on behalf of the CPC. RMG Chief Operating Officer Andrew Langhorne admits calls made to CPC supporters included a statement that "Elections Canada has made a number of last changes to polling locations." This is problematic for two reasons: Elections Canada asked the parties not to advise voters of polling station changes and, despite RMG calling into five of the six ridings in these cases, only one polling station location had changed. So why did RMG make calls into ridings where there was no changes at all?

Annette Desgagne, an employee of RMG at the time of these calls, has given sworn testimony that, because of the way people responded to her "polling station change" scripts, she believes she misled voters. She was so alarmed that she reported her concerns to the RCMP.

Day 2 ended with the promise of more evidence to come from the applicants.

With hope and resolve,

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Maude Barlow
National Chairperson, The Council of Canadians

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