Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2018-2019

Commissioner's Message

I am very pleased to present the 2018-2019 annual report for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE).

A great deal has changed for our Office in a relatively short period of time. Indeed, change has been the overarching theme for our organization over the last year or so. While you will read about those changes in greater detail throughout the report, they are also part of the reason that this, our first, standalone annual report, covers a longer period (April 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019) than what would typically be presented. My intention going forward is to report annually on the work carried out by our Office between January 1 and December 31.

Bill C-76

Looking back over the last 20 months, a number of important developments stand out in my mind. Chief among these were the significant legislative amendments brought about by Bill C-76, which received royal assent in December 2018. Although the timing of the adoption of these amendments, some of which did not come into force until June 2019, posed certain difficulties with respect to training and standing up of new programs so close to the fixed-date general election, it also made important and extremely positive changes to the Canada Elections Act's (the Act) compliance and enforcement regime. Importantly, Bill C-76 granted the Commissioner:

These changes are particularly significant in light of Canada's overburdened criminal court system. It appears to me that, of late, the criminal justice system has tended to downplay violations of Canada's electoral law. As can be seen elsewhere in this report, the sentences imposed by judges in our cases recently have generally been low-level fines, and even conditional and absolute discharges have become more common. This is somewhat surprising in light of Parliament's clear statement in favour of stricter enforcement of electoral law in 2014, when it decided to increase maximum fines for offences under the Act by a factor of ten. Now that we have the ability to address these types of violations using AMPs or more robust compliance agreements means that, in the future, we will likely have less frequent recourse to criminal courts, using that avenue for the most egregious offences.

Bill C-76 also included the administrative reintegration of our organization to within the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (OCEO). Transferring an Office such as ours from one organization to another is a complex and time consuming undertaking. My sincere thanks go out to our counterparts at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) both for the support to our Office during our four years as part of their group, and for helping us during the transition to the OCEO. Furthermore, the transition team at Elections Canada (EC), who worked closely with the PPSC to make sure the transition to the OCEO was as seamless as possible, did so under enormous time pressures and while simultaneously preparing for an election. I am tremendously grateful for their diligence and hard work.

In addition to the changes noted above, Bill C-76 also upheld many of the important safeguards contained in previous legislation, in particular those surrounding the independence of our Office. To me, these provisions are critical not only because of the administrative reintegration of our organization within the OCEO, but also because of the criticism our Office has faced of late with regards to our independence as it relates to the integrity of the decision-making process. I have repeatedly stressed (and will continue to do so) that all the decisions that are made with respect to compliance and enforcement issues are mine and mine alone. They are made without any influence from anyone and with a view to doing one thing: preserving the integrity of the system and upholding the law. At all times, they are based on, and informed by, the relevant considerations described in our Compliance and Enforcement Policy. As I indicated in a statement I issued on May 2, 2019, “there has never been any attempt by elected officials, political staffers or public servants to influence the course of an investigation or to interfere with our work. And I want to make it clear that if this ever happened, I would promptly and publicly denounce it.”

That said, despite the fact that we are subject to the strict confidentiality provisions contained in the Act, I fully understand that I, as Commissioner, and we, as an Office, have a responsibility to provide more information on how we work and come to our decisions. We may not be able to provide investigative details, but we must do a better job of communicating with Canadians about who we are, what we do, and, wherever possible, why we do it. We are committed to improving our ways in this area.

43rd General Election

In keeping with the theme of change, it is clear that modern election campaigns bear only a passing resemblance to those fought in the past. It is also clear that they will continue to evolve at a pace that we have not seen previously — one that will require ongoing awareness on the part of both law-makers and those who enforce the law.

With that in mind, our Office spent a significant amount of time leading up to the election consulting with our partners and reaching out to other governments and stakeholders in order to benefit from both their expertise and experiences. We also built on existing relationships — and established new ones — with digital platforms, with a view to ensuring collaboration both during and after the election period. This is an area in which we intend to continue to work assiduously.

I am pleased to be able to say that these measures served us well and that, as an organization, we were generally well-equipped to address issues arising out of our mandate. Here, I would like to mention that, on the issue of interference — foreign or otherwise — we have seen little evidence that Canada was the target of the kinds of attacks that were perpetrated in other countries.

What you will see throughout the report, and specifically in the Issues of Particular Interest and statistical sections, is that there were clearly a number of issues that were top of mind to Canadians. Even more interesting was that Canadians reached out to us in much greater numbers than we had seen in previous elections. However, while we saw an increase in the number of separate complaints we received compared to previous elections, the actual number of different fact situations that led to those complaints was relatively stable. Put another way, there weren't necessarily more problems, the problems just appeared to be greater, or were amplified, because we may have received multiple complaints in relation to the same potential offence. Whether this amplification occurred as a result of increased awareness of electoral issues on the part of the Canadian population, or the spread of messages across social media during the campaign period, we may never know, but it will have a significant impact on the way we carry out our work going forward.

With the addition of new program areas stemming from Bill C-76, and due to the increasing volume and complexity of our files, our Office has almost doubled in size over the last two years. To ensure that our structure and processes reflect this new reality and that we continue to operate efficiently and in a way that is forward-looking, we plan to undertake a review of our organization in the coming fiscal year. The findings and recommendations stemming from the review will be discussed in future reports. In the immediate term, and following the addition of new program areas brought about as a result of Bill C-76, coupled with the need to ensure the continuity of our operations both now and in the future, I have created a Deputy Commissioner position within the Office.

These last 20 months have challenged us in new ways and required us to stretch beyond what have perhaps been our traditional boundaries. We have collaborated more, started to communicate better and looked beyond our traditional partnerships to improve our understanding of the issues we will face in the future. Our success — and I truly believe we have been successful during this time of change — can be attributed to our small, but growing, team who have faced these changes and challenges head-on and done so with enthusiasm and determination. They are dedicated, professional and above all, they enjoy and believe in what they do. I thank them for all that they do and I am proud to lead the CCE team.

Yves Côté, QC

Commissioner of Canada Elections

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