Surrey’s Chief Election Officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci is assuring voters that the integrity of the elections process is intact as allegations of widespread election fraud involving the South Asian community grip Surrey’s 2018 campaign.
With less than three weeks to the Oct. 20 election, local anti-crime community group Wake Up Surrey made an official complaint to the RCMP on Friday.
The complaint centres on alleged “fraudulent use of absentee ballots” and “buying votes.” It claims to have “learned of vote buying offers in the South Asian community which is another attempt to suppress registered voters and undermine our democratic process.”
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) October 1, 2018
Wake Up’s letter, sent to Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, officer in charge of the RCMP, as well as Elections BC, does not directly implicate any campaign. It says it has received “many voluntary disclosures from City of Surrey residents” with reference to “a well-coordinated election fraud scheme underway within the South Asian community attempting to orchestrate voting to 1 or more of the municipal parties.”
But no complainants were identified in the letter.
“Wake Up Surrey wants to ensure the confidentiality and protection of all witnesses who voluntarily come forward with evidence supporting such election fraud,” the letter reads.
Surrey RCMP Sergeant Chad Grieg confirmed investigators “received a third-party complaint of alleged election fraud that we are currently assessing.”
Asked to reveal the campaign or campaigns alleged to be involved, Gurpreet Sahota, of Wake Up Surrey, said “honestly we know” but he would not reveal names.
The matter is “very serious,” he said.
Sukhi Sandhu, also of Wake Up Surrey, agreed.
“We need to have a fair, transparent election,” he said. “We feel it’s our moral duty to inform the RCMP and Elections BC.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who is not seeking re-election, says Wake Up Surrey has done the right thing.
“I think they should do exactly what they did do, report it to the RCMP, and let’s see where it lands,” Hepner said. “I’m glad Wake Up Surrey have done what I consider to be the right thing to do. Report it, and hopefully we can identify who’s doing what.”
Meantime, Capuccinello Iraci said he caught wind of suspicious goings on before he was made aware of Wake Up Surrey’s letter.
“Our suspicions were raised before that (the Wake Up letter),” he said. “It was just concerns raised with the applications themselves. I can’t say any more than that, as you can appreciate. We’ve given that information to the RCMP and so we’re limited in what we can say.
“Although applications for mail ballots have been received, no ballots have been sent out by mail, therefore the mail ballot voting process has not been compromised,” Capuccinello Iraci said. “Based on concerns we observed with some of the applications received, the deputy chief election officer and I had sufficient cause to suspect unlawful activity associated with the mail ballot voting process.”
He offered a play-by-play. On Friday at about noon, he said, he contacted the ministry of municipal affairs for input, given it had issued a letter on Aug. 31 to all police services in B.C., which had been copied to all chief election officers, concerning the role of police in local elections. He said a ministry official recommended they contact the RCMP, and later on Friday afternoon he was made aware of Wake Up Surrey’s complaint. “I then spoke with the RCMP regarding our concerns. Given that this is now with the RCMP, as you can appreciate, I’m limited in what I can say. In terms of the mail ballot voting process, to date we have received approximately 160 general applications for a mail ballot,” which will be reviewed by him.
“Under the circumstances, and until further notice, the general procedure is that mail ballot packages will only be made available for pickup by the applicant in person, after the applicant has properly completed the application and produced acceptable identification,” Capuccinello Iraci.
“The applicant will also be required to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the mail ballot package.”
Asked about allegations of vote buying, Capuccinello Iraci told the Now-Leader that “there isn’t really much” he could say.
“I’m confident the RCMP will review that and that they will take the necessary steps to ensure the integrity of the voting process is maintained,” he said.
Meantime, the political candidates are shell-shocked.
“I think it’s terrible; it affects our whole democratic system,” said Doug McCallum, mayoral candidate with the Safe Surrey Coalition. “To think who in the world would do something like that is really disturbing. I certainly would encourage the RCMP to move very quickly on this and try to get to the bottom. We need to know who’s involved, too,” McCallum added. “I would also encourage them to, in the investigations if they’re investigating some people, to at least give out their names. It’s important that the people of Surrey find out who’s behind this. It’s critical, and it just makes me sick to my stomach that somebody would ever do this in a campaign.”
The complaint letter alleges a scheme to solicit registered voters to fill out mail-in voting forms with a total target of 15,000 eligible voters, a number which has at least one mayoral candidate scratching his head.
“I’m not quite sure where that 15,000 versus 160 issue is,” said Tom Gill, mayoral candidate for Surrey First.
Bruce Hayne, mayoral candidate with Integrity Now, called the allegations “extremely disturbing.”
“Every Canadian deserves the right to a fair and secure election,” Hayne said, “and at Integrity Now we have built our entire campaign on these principles and we are anxious to hear the results of the investigation.”
Mayoral candidate Pauline Greaves called for the “immediate suspension” of absentee voting in Surrey’s civic election in light of the fraud allegations.
“This allegation strikes at the heart of our democracy and it will not be tolerated,” the leader of Proudly Surrey said in a press release, calling Wake Up Surrey’s request for an investigation “explosive.”
“If even a fraction of this is true, this is completely unacceptable,” Greaves said.
“The people of Surrey must not have this election stolen from them, for that reason I am calling for the immediate suspension of all mail-in balloting for this election. We have over a billion dollars in transportation funding at issue in this election and we must not have that stolen for the benefit of a few.”