Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2014-2015
It is an honour to present the 2014-2015 annual report for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
This past fiscal year has been one of considerable change for our organization. In particular, the adoption and implementation of Bill C-23 has had a significant impact on both our work and our working environment. As you will read in greater detail in this report, the transfer of our organization under the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the subsequent move to a new building – physically separating us from both Elections Canada and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) – presented a unique set of challenges not only for my staff but for those within the PPSC and Elections Canada as well.
I am sincerely grateful for the tremendous cooperation and goodwill of both PPSC and Elections Canada personnel throughout the transition period. It is thanks to their extremely generous collaboration that we were able to seamlessly transition from one organization to the next. Looking ahead, I am confident that the important agreements respecting the interactions between and among all three of our organizations have us well-placed to carry out our respective mandates in an effective and independent manner.
Despite these very positive relations, the adoption of Bill C-23 has not been without its challenges. First and most importantly, I believe that there are a number of areas where additional legislative changes are required. When the legislation was debated in Parliament last year, I recommended that the Office be given the power to obtain orders from a judge to compel individuals to provide information in connection with matters under investigation, with necessary safeguards in place to protect the privacy interests of witnesses and their rights regarding self-incrimination. At that time I indicated that without this ability, some investigations would be lengthy and in some cases would abort altogether. One year on, I must unfortunately confirm that a number of our investigations have had to be closed because of individuals who – despite clear indications that they had information relevant to our investigations – refused to cooperate with us. Additionally, we have a number of ongoing investigations that have taken much longer than they should, due in large part to our inability to get to the information.
Secondly – and this is also an issue I raised when C-23 was debated – I continue to be concerned by the lack of flexibility afforded by the enforcement mechanisms contained in the Canada Elections Act. Currently, there are essentially two enforcement tools available to us: compliance agreements and the laying of charges. Compliance agreements rely on cooperation, and more specifically, a willingness on the part of the other entity to enter into this type of agreement. Conversely, charges are a very heavy-handed and resource intensive tool involving large amounts of time, effort and money. In my view, the timely and efficient enforcement of certain provisions of the Act – particularly for minor violations of the legislation – would be made immeasurably easier if a regime of administrative monetary penalties were introduced.
I would urge Parliament to re-examine these two issues at the first opportunity, as their implementation would provide more robust, efficient and timely enforcement of the rules enacted by Parliament to ensure fair elections. Furthermore, their adoption would only serve to enhance Canadians' trust in the electoral process.
As this transition period draws to a close, our office has naturally begun to turn its attention to preparations for the upcoming federal general election. As a result of the public attention surrounding a number of our recent investigations, we are anticipating a high number of complaints both during and after the electoral period. To better address complaints and enquiries, and conduct investigations during this timeframe, additional personnel have been hired and trained to respond to potential compliance issues. We have also begun to develop tools to assist in educating the public about the role and mandate of our office – including some of the limitations to the Commissioner's jurisdiction and powers – in order to assist Canadians in making informed decisions about when and how to submit a complaint.
In closing, I am extremely pleased with the progress and results achieved by our office in 2014-2015. None of the work documented in these pages would have been possible without the outstanding efforts of each and every member of the Commissioner of Canada Elections' team. Their professionalism and willingness to take on additional duties – particularly in light of the separation from Elections Canada – ensured that we continued to deliver on our mandate throughout the entire transition period. I am confident that the same commitment to excellence, independence and fairness that was present over this past year, will continue to guide our work in the busy year to come.
Yves Côté, Q.C.
Commissioner of Canada Elections