Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2021

The Year in Review: 2021

The Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections

In 2021, most of the work continued to be conducted virtually, with limited on-site presence as required. The Office has adjusted well to this new work environment, and is able to efficiently carry out its compliance and enforcement activities. Flexible work schedules and locations also allowed employees to work at times and in ways that were best suited to their needs.

As part of its commitment to building a more diverse workforce, the Office began an evaluation of its recruitment and hiring practices with a view to recognizing and reducing barriers to employment. It offered internal training on intercultural effectiveness. The Office also continued to engage in wellness and mental health initiatives to foster a positive and thriving work environment.

The Office of the CCE is a great place to work. In the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, CCE employees reported feeling valued, recognized and supported at work. They also described their workplace as psychologically healthy and felt like their wellness and mental health were prioritized.

In keeping with Bill C-65 and as a means to continue to foster a safe work environment for all of its employees, the CCE implemented its Policy on Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention. All employees received mandatory training on the Policy, which included guidance on how to recognize, minimize and prevent workplace harassment and violence.

As outlined in the 2020 Annual Report, the CCE continued the work associated with its organizational review throughout 2021. That review was designed to evaluate the structure of the Office, with a view to ensuring the overall efficiency of its operations and the proper alignment of functions across the organization. Much progress has been accomplished in the implementation of the recommendations that came out of this organizational review.

Interactions with the Public

Beginning in May 2021, the CCE began reducing the level of detail in its public announcements. This new practice, which will be reassessed on an annual basis, was adopted to better align with the principles of the "right to be forgotten", which is a concept allowing individuals the right to request that their personal or private information be removed from results of internet searches. Although all compliance and enforcement information remains fully accessible and searchable via the CCE's website, once archived, the content can no longer be accessed when external search engines are used. Announcements are products often shared by a third party (like external service providers et social media users). De-personalizing public-facing communications ensures that CCE content does not contain these personal identifiers and therefore will not appear in third party sites once the content has been archived on the CCE's website. Currently, the CCE archives content after 5 years or two election cycles, whichever is longer.

Relationship with Chief Electoral Officer

Building on Guiding Principles agreed upon by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and the Commissioner following the return of the CCE to the Office of the CEO, an internal services agreement was signed in 2021. It lays out how shared services are delivered to the CCE. In particular, it establishes parameters for the delivery of human resources, financial and IT services by Elections Canada, while continuing to respect the independent nature of the Commissioner's work.

The CEO is accountable for any expense incurred by, on behalf of, or in relation to, the Commissioner under the Act. As outlined in Appendix B, the CCE derives its funding from two sources. To ensure that the CCE's financial resources are well-managed, compliant with legislation, and consistent with Treasury Board policies and the principles of good stewardship, the Commissioner had an evaluation of the CCE's use of its statutory spending authority performed by an independent third party. The review examined and analysed all spending, including the increase in the number of determinate positions in recent years. It found that the CCE's statutory spending was aligned with the authorities set out in the Act. The report's findings were shared with the CEO's Departmental Audit Committee and, upon their recommendation, the Commissioner agreed to strengthen the challenge capacity of the CEO's Chief Financial Officer for the CCE. This will, of course, take into consideration key factors including the Commissioner's independence and the strict confidentiality rules that apply to his Office. The Audit Committee also recommended the Budget Management Principles and Guidelines developed by the CEO be applicable to the CCE.

Legislative Amendments – False Statements

In early 2021, the Ontario Superior Court found section 91 of the Act on false statements to be unconstitutional. It determined that making or publishing certain false statements should only be illegal when made while knowing that the statement is false. In keeping with the usual practice when a provision is declared invalid by the Court in one province, the CCE applied the judgment across the country. This meant that, if an election had been called at that time, the CCE would not have enforced section 91.

In response to the decision of the Ontario Superior Court, Parliament amended the offence provisions related to section 91 by adding the word "knowingly". For an offence to take place, the person or the entity making or publishing a false statement must have knowledge that it is false. The CCE supported the amendment, which, incidentally, was consistent with how the CCE had been enforcing section 91.

More information on this issue can be found in the issues of particular interest below.

Ongoing Work Related to Previous Elections

Throughout 2021, the CCE continued to review and investigate files stemming from previous election periods.

In addition to ongoing files stemming from complaints to the Office, the CCE also received a significant number of referrals from Elections Canada.

Although some referrals may be in relation to incidents during a campaign, many are only received by the Office well after the end of the election period, either for reasons of administration or stemming from legislative timelines associated with political financing. Of note, unavoidable processing delays arising out of the pandemic have also postponed the transfer of political financing and potential illegal voting files to the CCE. In the case of the latter type of files, the need to ensure appropriate social distancing at the warehouse where election documents for all of the polling stations are kept has significantly impeded Elections Canada's ability to access the documents required to substantiate potential cases of illegal voting.

Data on the most common types of referrals from 2021 can be found in Appendix A.

The time between when a complaint is received and the announcement of compliance or enforcement action by the CCE varies greatly from case to case. The length of time necessary for a review or investigation can depend on several factors, including the complexity of the file and the level of cooperation from the people or entities involved.

2021 Federal General Election

Whether in the case of a fixed-date election or a minority Parliament which may lead to an early election call, the CCE always ensures that it is prepared to address the influx of complaints and issues that arise during an election period. As a result, in 2021, the CCE devoted a significant amount of time and resources preparing for a possible election.

As part of this work, the CCE undertook an evaluation of lessons learned from previous elections to determine those areas where adjustments may be required. Additional preparatory work was undertaken based on a strategic risk analysis, designed to better understand, prevent, and react to arising issues in the public environment.


Throughout 2021, the CCE continued to build on relationships with existing stakeholders and participated in dialogues with experts, both inside and outside of government.

For example, the CCE took part in interdepartmental committees and groups that focus on election security. The CCE also engaged with a number of other stakeholders interested in threats to elections, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and the Rapid Response Mechanism Team at Global Affairs Canada. In addition, the CCE reached out to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in the event that the Office needed to liaise with police of local jurisdiction either during or after the general election.

As in previous years, the Office continued to liaise with digital platforms to ensure a clear line of communication and a rapid response when dealing with online activities that contravene provisions of the Act. These communications greatly help to facilitate the work of the Office, particularly as it relates to the gathering of evidence to carry out its investigative work.

In anticipation of the increased number of visitors to the CCE's website during the election period, the CCE updated its Frequently Asked Questions to provide more information to complainants and those who are the subject of a complaint. It also launched social media campaigns on its Twitter and Facebook accounts providing insight on common types of offences and violations under the Act, from a compliance and enforcement perspective.


During an election period, the CCE shifts its focus from ongoing compliance and investigation work to the more urgent work generated by the influx of complaints. Throughout the general election, CCE personnel prioritize the reception, triage and review of thousands of complaints, with the main objective of achieving compliance. Indeed, wherever possible, CCE personnel work with individuals or entities to achieve compliance before election day. Detecting and resolving an issue as early as possible is the best way to ensure that electoral participants play by the rules established by Parliament to ensure a free and fair election.

Although many files and issues are still under review, no major issues were identified in relation to the campaign.

The CCE received 2,500 complaints, requests for information and letters in relation to the 2021 general election. The vast majority of the complaints were submitted by the public. Canadians also reached out to the Office to voice concerns or take positions on issues of interest, as well as to request information on various topics related to the application and enforcement of Canada's electoral legislation.

This number included 336 referrals from Elections Canada on matters that fell within the CCE's jurisdiction. Similarly, the CCE has mechanisms in place with Elections Canada and other enforcement bodies like the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to redirect general election-related complaints, as required.

More than two thirds of the files received by the Office in relation to the 2021 general election were closed by the end of the calendar year. In almost all cases, these files were closed for one of three reasons: they fell outside of the CCE's jurisdiction; they were resolved informally; or there were insufficient facts and evidence to support allegations that wrongdoing may have occurred.

Data for 2021 on the sources of correspondence, the number of active files and the most common alleged violations can be found at Appendix A.

Issues of Particular Interest

In addition to potential violations and offences that were the subject of a high volume of complaints, some issues posed particular compliance and enforcement challenges for the CCE.

Many other issues that were of interest in 2021 are addressed separately in the recently-published CCE Recommendations Report.


Pandemic-Related Complaints

As outlined in Appendix A, during the 2021 general election, the CCE received complaints alleging that electors were being prevented from voting. Some of these complaints were related to electors not being allowed to enter a polling station because of their refusal to wear a mask, a requirement under public-health rules. In other cases, the complaints arose because of demonstrations or other disturbances at the polling place, sometimes linked to opposition to public-health measures. Many of these files remain under review by the Office. Despite the absence of provisions in the Act allowing for access-restrictions at the polling place based on public-health considerations, it is likely that the public interest in ensuring the health and safety of electors, candidates' representatives and poll workers will be an important consideration in how these matters will ultimately be dealt with.

Finally, it is noteworthy that reports of hostility and threats towards election workers enforcing pandemic-related rules were made to the CCE. Currently, unless a person has contravened ss. 479(4) of the Act by disobeying an order by the election officer for the person to leave the polling station, the Commissioner does not have the ability to take action with respect to any violent act or threat that caused the order to be issued in the first place. Indeed, since the Act does not contain prohibitions against acts of intimidation or violence against poll workers, and since the CCE's mandate to enforce the Act does not include offences committed under the Criminal Code, any such occurrence at a polling place would be a matter for the police of local jurisdiction.

Think Tanks Associated with Parties

The CCE received complaints about policy and research institutes ("think tanks") that are (or appear to be) closely associated with particular political parties, and that carry out activities that allegedly provide benefits to the political party and its affiliated entities. Generally speaking, the work carried out by such think tanks is not regulated under the Act, provided that what they do does not result in the making of an illegal contribution to a regulated political entity. This means that they must carry out their activities independently from the political party and its affiliated entities. Moreover, organizations (including, of course, think tanks) that carry out partisan or election advertising or partisan activities are required to follow the rules for third parties set out in the Act.

Finally, where contributions are made to a third party by an organization that solicited contributions for the stated purpose of funding the third party, the Act's anti-avoidance provisions may very well apply. As such, the organization and the third party may be in breach of the prohibition against circumventing the rules on contributions, or against hiding the identity of a contributor. Indeed, in such a case, the third party would only report a contribution having been received from the organization; the identity of the persons or entities that provided funds to the organization to make this contribution would remain hidden, contrary to the transparency objective sought by the Act.

Incentive to Vote

The CCE also received complaints regarding the Act's bribery prohibitions. Under the Act it is an offence during the election period to offer or accept (or agree to accept) a bribe (money or a gift) directly or indirectly with the purpose of influencing someone to vote or refrain from voting. However, for there to be an offence of offering or accepting a bribe, there must be a corrupt intent on the part of the offender. Simply encouraging electors to vote – absent a corrupt intent – is generally not contrary to the Act.

Misleading Electors

The CCE received multiple reports of alleged false statements in 2021 (see Appendix A). With all the messages circulating online, electors are more exposed to disinformation. These issues can only partly be addressed through the provisions of the Act.

At section 91, the Act prohibits making specific types of false statements in relation to a candidate or party leader, among others, with the intention of affecting the result of the election. However, for the offence to be committed, the person who made the statement must know or be willfully blind to the fact that it was false (see above). In at least one instance during the 2021 general election, an individual communicated alarming and false information about the intended effects of a candidate's support of vaccine mandates. After a review by the CCE, it became evident that despite any potential impact of such alarming statements on the targeted candidate's campaign, there was strong evidence that the subject of the complaint sincerely held these wrong beliefs. In such a situation, enforcement action would be complicated by the fact that it may be impossible for the prosecutor to prove the intent element of the offence. In such cases, the sending of an information or caution letter by the CCE may be useful to inform the person of the need to research the veracity of their particular statements, on the one hand, and to prove wilful blindness as an alternative to knowledge for any subsequent reoccurrence, on the other hand.

Illegal Voting

The CCE received a number of referrals from Elections Canada related to potential illegal voting in 2021. These files had to do with events arising out of the 2019 general election and included cases of electors who may have voted while not qualified or cases of potential double voting.

Elections Canada refers these files to the CCE for review and closer examination. Due to the volume of cases and pandemic-related delays in the gathering of information regarding the potential illegal vote, the CCE put in place a protocol to prioritize cases to make the best use of resources and ensure a most efficient compliance overall.

Although instances of illegal voting were established, in many cases, alleged occurrences could not be ascertained, it was determined that an administrative error had taken place, or the individual was, in fact, an eligible voter.

Missing or Late Campaign Returns

The Act provides specific timelines for political entities and third parties to submit financial returns. Elections Canada reviews these returns, and refers cases to the CCE when they believe a contravention may have occurred.

During 2021, a significant number of administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) were imposed on the financial agents of nomination contestants of a particular registered party, for the failure to submit a campaign return or to submit it on time. Although it may seem unusual that the Notices of Violation (NOVs) were only issued to financial agents of this party, this is explained by the fact that the latter imposes a participation fee of more than $1,000 on nomination contestants taking part in the contest organized by the party. This participation fee in itself constitutes a nomination campaign expense that is sufficient to trigger the obligation for the financial agents of this party to submit a campaign return in accordance with the Act. No other party charges a participation fee requiring, by itself, the submission of a campaign return after the nomination contest.

Unpaid Claims

According to the Act, candidates and nomination contestants have three years to pay their claims for a campaign expense or loan. While this is problematic even in a full four-year election cycle–since files dealing with unpaid claims are referred by Elections Canada to the CCE just as the Office is readying for the next general election–it presents particular challenges in a minority government context. Indeed, in a shortened election cycle, files from the two previous general elections may not have been received before the next election is held. The length of the period to pay claims is problematic from a compliance and enforcement perspective. For that reason, the Office worked on a recommendation to shorten the period, which was included in the CCE's Recommendations Report.

Compliance and Enforcement

The Office has a variety of tools at its disposal to ensure that the Act is complied with and enforced. Formal means include the use of enforcement and compliance tools provided for in the Act, among them the laying of charges, entering into a compliance agreement, the issuance of a Notice of Violation (NOV) imposing an administrative monetary penalty (AMP), and the acceptance of an undertaking. Depending on the circumstances, the Commissioner can also use informal means, such as an information or a caution letter.

In accordance with the Act, the Commissioner has delegated to the Deputy Commissioner the power to impose NOVs and accept undertakings for amounts of up to $500 for individuals and up to $1,500 for entities. This resulted in the Deputy Commissioner issuing most of the NOVs and accepting all of the undertakings in 2021.

As required by the Act, all cases resulting in the use of formal means are made public, on the CCE's website. Links to the information are also shared with the public via news releases and the CCE's social media accounts.

Did you know?

The CCE only makes information public at the end of an investigation and only if formal compliance or enforcement action is taken. The Act contains confidentiality provisions that prevent the Commissioner and those working for them from sharing details related to the work being carried out by the CCE, except in some instances. Most of the time, that also means the CCE will not comment on whether a review or an investigation is even underway.

The CCE does not provide updates on the status of files, but complainants are generally notified about the outcome of their complaint.


If the Commissioner believes on reasonable grounds that an offence has been committed under the Act, they may cause criminal charges to be laid. After charges have been laid, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) is responsible for all aspects of the prosecutions, including appeals.

Although no new charges were laid in 2021, several proceedings were concluded during the year:

In addition, three matters were still before the courts at the end of 2021:

Did you know?

The Act provides the Commissioner or their delegate with a variety of tools to resolve enforcement matters. In some instances, they may determine that the public interest will best be served through the use of means other than the laying of charges. The use of other tools to address violations and offences under the Act helps to alleviate the strain on the Canadian justice system, and avoids delays that can be associated with criminal proceedings.

Compliance Agreements

Compliance agreements are voluntary agreements that set out the terms and conditions that the CCE considers necessary to ensure compliance with the Act, and are an alternative to the laying of charges. Since June 2019, compliance agreements may contain financial consequences for the person or entity that failed to comply with a requirement of the Act. The consequences of non-compliance with the terms and conditions of a compliance agreement may also result in the imposition of an AMP for the failure to comply, or in the laying of charges with respect to the initial offence to which the compliance agreement related.

Between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021, the CCE entered into five compliance agreements:


Administrative Monetary Penalties

Following changes brought about by Bill C-76 that, among other things, created an AMP regime, the CCE established a Compliance Unit in 2019 and the new unit became fully operational in late 2020. The unit's main business line is management of the AMP regime and issuance of other compliance-related measures.

AMPs provide a financial disincentive to non-compliance and are an administrative alternative to more severe enforcement measures. This measure is used when the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner believes on reasonable grounds that a person has committed a violation. In such a case, they serve the person with a NOV that sets out, among other things, the nature of the violation and the amount of the AMP to be paid.

The ability to issue a NOV applies to certain contraventions of the Act, including those related to illegal voting, and to the rules on communications, third parties and political financing. They may also be imposed to address failure to comply with a term or condition of a compliance agreement or of an undertaking, or for failing to comply with a requirement issued by the CEO.

In 2021, a total of 76 NOVs imposing an AMP were issued. In its first full year of operations, the regime has proven to be a useful administrative tool in the efficient resolution of compliance matters.

AMPs are only made public once the amount is paid or, if the person fails to pay, request a review, or enter into an undertaking within 30 days. As required by the Act, at the conclusion of a review, if an AMP is confirmed by the Commissioner or the CEO (as the case may be), the AMP is made public after 30 days following the review decision.

In 2021, the CCE published the following AMP summaries for NOVs that were sent to individuals:

Two AMP summaries were also published for an entity failing to register as a third party and to include information required by the Act in its election advertising. Of note, the entity has asked for a judicial review under the Federal Courts Act, and the case is still pending.

A request for the review of a NOV issued to a person or entity may be made to the CCE (in cases where the Deputy Commissioner issued a NOV imposing an AMP of $500 or less to an individual or of $1,500 or less to a corporation or an entity), or to the CEO (in cases where the CCE issued a NOV beyond this threshold). While the NOV is issued if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation occurred, at review, the decider may only maintain the AMP if they are satisfied on a balance of probabilities, a higher evidentiary standard. As such, evidence, information and explanations as to potential defences that are provided as part of the review process may serve to provide greater clarity surrounding the events that led to the issuance of the NOV, and the reviewer may as a result cancel an NOV, or reduce the amount of the AMP imposed.

A total of 18 requests for review were submitted in 2021. They were all made to the CCE, since they had been issued by the Deputy Commissioner. Following these reviews, 4 NOVs were cancelled, and the amount of the AMP imposed in 4 others were reduced because of mitigating circumstances.

When individuals or entities are issued a NOV, they have 30 days to either pay, request a review or propose an undertaking. After this period, an unpaid portion of an AMP (with interest) is a debt due to the Crown, which may be recovered in the Federal Court. To facilitate the recovery of unpaid amounts, the CCE and the Office of the CEO have approached Canada Revenue Agency to have such debts recovered through the Agency's Individual Refund Set-Off program.

More information about AMPs and requirements set out in the Act can be found in the CCE's AMP regime and Policy for the AMP Regime.


As an alternative to the imposition of an AMP, an undertaking is a pledge made by a person or entity that did not comply with a requirement of the Act to take action to comply with the requirement. The undertaking is therefore accepted as a means of addressing situations of non-compliance by the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner. It may be offered by an individual or entity when a violation has been committed or following the issuance of a NOV imposing an AMP. Each undertaking contains the terms and conditions that are considered appropriate, which may include the payment of an amount to the Receiver General for Canada.

Five undertakings were accepted during 2021, each one of them dealing with a matter arising from the 2019 general election:

Informal Resolution

In 2021, the CCE issued 199 caution letters and 49 information letters. As required under federal privacy legislation, informal correspondence of that kind is not made public.

In certain cases, the CCE chooses informal means to resolve a file. This is often the case for minor or unintentional acts or omissions. To decide whether to proceed formally or informally, the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner carefully considers all aspects of a case to select the measure that would best serve the public interest in a particular situation.


Informal tools, such as information and caution letters, encourage the person or entity to take all necessary steps to avoid a contravention of the Act in the future. An information letter may be sent when the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner determines that there has not been a contravention of the Act or that evidence of such a contravention is not obtainable, but that it would be useful to provide information to the person or entity involved in order to prevent future contraventions of the Act. A caution letter serves as a warning. It may be issued in cases of minor contraventions where the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner determines that it is not in the public interest to take formal enforcement action.

These informal letters form part of the person or entity's compliance record. A person or entity receiving a caution letter should expect any recurrent non-compliance to be addressed using a formal response. Whether or not a person has taken steps to avoid committing a violation in the future is one of the factors that guides the CCE in determining the best course of action and the amount to be paid, should an AMP be imposed. More information on the aggravating and mitigating factors considered in the calculation of an AMP can be found in the CCE's Policy for the AMP Regime.

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