Statements and Speeches: Commissioner of Canada Elections
Enforcement of the third-party regime by the
Commissioner of Canada Elections
In the interest of maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the Canada Elections Act’s (the Act) compliance and enforcement regime, the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE) offers the following clarifications.
The mandate of the CCE is to ensure compliance with, and enforcement of, the Act. The CCE may only investigate those matters within his mandate and does so in a manner that is completely independent from any and all elected officials, political staff and public servants, including the Chief Electoral Officer. The decision as to how a particular situation should be handled is ours and ours alone.
Falling within the CCE’s jurisdiction are a series of rules that apply to individuals or organizations (other than regulated entities such as candidates and political parties) that get involved in electoral campaigns by incurring expenses to promote or oppose candidates or political parties. They are referred to in the Act as “third parties”. A critical purpose of the rules applying to third parties is to ensure transparency by providing Canadians with access to information about who is trying to influence their vote. By law, individuals or organizations must register with Elections Canada when they have incurred expenses of $500 or more on certain activities to promote or oppose parties or candidates, including by “election advertising”, a concept defined at section 2 of the Act. They must also file reports after they have registered. These reports are publicly accessible on Elections Canada’s website.
The third-party regime does not regulate the content of election advertising. In other words, once the $500 threshold has been met, the regime applies, regardless of the message conveyed to electors.
It is a regular occurrence, over the course of an election campaign, for the CCE to receive complaints regarding allegations of a third party’s failure to register with Elections Canada. If there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a violation may have taken place, a review is conducted, which may lead to an investigation.
- We conduct our investigations in private and CCE personnel are subject to strict confidentiality provisions that prevent us from disclosing information including the name of the complainant, the person whose conduct is being investigated or any witness.
- As a matter of course, we invite the subject of an investigation to provide us with their side of the story. Their participation is entirely voluntary and we cannot and do not force them to attend an interview or to otherwise assist with the investigation.
- If they agree to be interviewed, they are advised of the nature of the allegation and are invited to provide the CCE with any relevant information they may have. Individuals may be accompanied by counsel and may put an end to the interview at any time.
- If, at the conclusion of an investigation, the CCE finds that no violation has been committed the file will be closed. Conversely, in the event that the CCE finds that a violation has occurred, there are a range of compliance and enforcement actions that can be taken, including compliance agreements, charges, and administrative monetary penalties (which may be challenged before the Federal Court).
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are highly valued and protected in Canada. This is especially true during an election period. All Canadians are free to support or oppose any candidate, party or leader and can express their views in a variety of ways, including by making comments on social media, in newspapers or in books. However, if in expressing their views, they engage in regulated activities, including election advertising as defined in the Act, and spend $500 or more, then they must comply with the registration and reporting requirements of the third-party regime.