by Leslie Young
During the last federal election, we heard about complaints of election irregularities, loosely defined. These included things like harassing phone calls, slashed tires and much more, largely in Guelph and some Toronto ridings.
At that time, I thought an informative little feature would be to look into how many complaints there have been over the last few elections. Maybe there were a lot of complaints, so this year wasn’t unusual. Or maybe the opposite.
So, I looked into Elections Canada’s reports. After every election, the agency issues a report that in part, summarizes the number of complaints that they received. But since you can register a complaint up to ten years after an incident, these aren’t a full list.
So I called Elections Canada, and they couldn’t give me the numbers. Eventually, I decided it was worthwhile to file an Access to Information request for the complaints. Unsatisfied with my first response, I filed a second, more detailed request.
This is what I got (one of three files):
This is a pdf document, printed and re-scanned a couple of times, then redacted, then scanned again. Un-copy-and-paste-able, un-crackable - this is data journalism hell.
Why so much redaction? According to the letter I received from Elections Canada, some information was withheld according to sections 16.3 (which gives special rules to the Chief Electoral Officer) and 19(1) (general privacy considerations) of the Access to Information Act.
Also, they write that “the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections must be able to maintain the confidentiality of its files in order to protect the presumption of innocence”. They go on to write, “the exemptions are applied to protect against the risk that a specific allegation might mistakenly be viewed as substantiated or used for political purposes.”
Looking at what I had, and unable to do any detailed analysis on my documents, I sat on this for months. I had no idea what to do with it.
Until of course, the fraudulent robocalls story hit the news. Then, I went through my file with Document Cloud, printed it out, got out my highlighter and counted through every mention of telephone calls by hand.
I found 30 complaints that referred to calls saying that polling stations had been moved.
Since then, we’ve heard that Elections Canada has had 30,000 contacts on this issue. The story goes on.