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RCMP at Conservative party headquarters

Hydrogen

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Nothing like a search warrant to spice up your public image.
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RCMP at Conservative party headquarters
Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, April 15, 2008

OTTAWA - The RCMP were at Conservative party headquarters in downtown Ottawa on Tuesday morning, assisting Elections Canada in the execution of a search warrant.

"I can confirm that the commissioner of Canada Elections requested the assistance of the RCMP in the execution of a search warrant," said Elections Canada spokesman John Enright. "The commissioner has no further comment."

Reached by phone in Winnipeg, Conservative party president Don Plett also said that RCMP investigators and officials from Elections Canada were at party headquarters but declined to answer any other questions.

The Conservative party offices are on two floors of the downtown building.
Several Mounties were seen entering an office on one floor with small suitcase-sized cases marked "Division A."

Shortly after noon, Elections Canada official Andre Thouin stepped off the elevator and made his way to the Conservative party's 12th-floor offices. About five minutes later, he walked out of the office with a brown cardboard box in his arms.

"I have various documentation," was all Thouin would tell reporters.
While Elections Canada would not confirm what exactly its officials are searching for, their presence at Tory headquarters is likely in connection with a probe into campaign advertising expenses in the 2006 election.

Elections Canada is investigating what are called "in and out" transactions. The Tories are accused of channeling the costs of national advertising through the campaigns of local candidates in order to avoid exceeding their national campaign spending limit.

Parties are legally allowed to transfer money to candidates during an election campaign and did so for the 2006 election.

The Conservative party however, used the transfers in a way that resulted in candidates paying a total of $1.2 million for radio and television ads.Elections Canada says the Tories would have exceeded its legal campaign spending limit had it claimed the $1.2 million in advertising that the party transferred to Tory candidates.

Candidates are entitled to receive a 60 per cent rebate of allowable expenses and last year chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand rejected the expense claims filed by 67 Conservative candidates and would not agree to reimburse them for the advertising costs.

Seventeen of the candidates are sitting MPs, including several cabinet ministers.

Three of the candidates have told the Ottawa Citizen they believed the payments to the party were for national advertising, and one former candidate has said his campaign was compelled by party headquarters to join in.

Elections Canada said the candidates did not produce evidence that they actually contracted the advertising themselves and that local ads were intended to benefit individual candidates.

Conservative officials insist the ads qualified as local advertisements, not subject to the national campaign spending limits, because they included small-print tag lines with candidate and riding names at the end.
Elections Canada says the tag lines are not relevant in determining whether the ads are legitimate expenses for the candidates.

The dispute has sparked a court battle between Elections Canada and the Conservative party with 30 of the candidates challenging Mayrand's decision in Federal Court.

Commissioner of elections William Corbett launched his investigation into the transactions last April. He has the authority to pass on cases to prosecutors.


© Canwest News Service 2008
 

Hypnotoad

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Global/Canwest/Canada.com's coverage was the least sensational, accusational and most pro-Tory of them all. At the time of the initial newsbreak, the Star, Globe and CBC.ca ran headlines like "Tory Headquarters Raided by RCMP", "Mounties Raid Tory HQ" and "Mounties Search Tory Headquarters". Radio-Canada.ca was more the most vague, with "Perquisition au PC" which translates in to "Search of the Conservative Party" but no mention of the RCMP.

Media bias is fun and it is sometimes enjoyable to watch how the different outlets wordsmith their headlines. We've got one raid that mentions the RCMP, one raid (no mention of RCMP), one search by the RCMP, on search (no mention of RCMP) and one "at". All but one mention the Tory headquarters.
 

Prometheus The Supremo

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RAID?!


Raid-ant.jpg
 

299 bloor call control.

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The whole Tory argument that this is in response to the civil matter they have brought before the courts is bullshit. You don't get or execute search warrants in civil lawsuits.

Pure and simple, Elections Canada believes it has a criminal case in its investigation and provided sufficient evidence to the courts to obtain a search warrant.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, as this is my interpretation of search warrant law. :p
 

299 bloor call control.

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It was have been amusing to watch the Conservatives high tailing it out of the hotel once its staged news conference was infiltrated by the free press.

Angry Tories unveil raid documents TheStar.com - Canada - Angry Tories unveil raid documents

April 21, 2008
Tonda MacCharles
Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA–Elections Canada alleges the Conservative party violated federal election law by funnelling money in and out of local candidates' campaigns so the national party could spend $1.1 million above its legal limit on media advertising in the last election.
In a sworn affidavit, investigators also say the party and its official agents later deliberately filed misleading documents to recoup rebates for expenses that were never in fact incurred by local candidates.
The allegations are set out in a 68-page sworn affidavit by Ronald Lamothe, assistant chief investigator in the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The document also claims last week's extraordinary search of the party's national headquarters by Elections Canada and the RCMP was justified to obtain evidence.
A Toronto court was to have released copies of the search warrant and related documents today.
But yesterday, outraged over the unprecedented search on party headquarters, Conservative officials decided to put their own spin on the raid and released nearly 650 pages of search warrant documents.
Saying they wanted to avoid a "media circus," three party officials also took the unusual step of briefing a "limited number" of invited reporters. But the attempt to frame the party message went awry when other journalists learned of the briefing. To avoid uninvited journalists, the Conservative officials switched hotels, cancelled a briefing, and left via a fire stairwell to avoid pursuit by television cameras.
The Conservatives insist they have done nothing wrong and say they were taken aback at the raid last week because they have complied with all requests to turn over documents.
But in the affidavit, Lamothe alleges the federal Conservatives embarked on a deliberate strategy to thwart election financing laws – and the party's spending limits – and to claim $700,000 in rebates for advertising expenses to which local candidates were not entitled.
Lamothe sought hard-copy and electronic copies of correspondence, emails, invoices, accounting records and other documents that would outline discussions between Conservative officials and its media production and buying agencies Retail Media, Yield or Yield Integrated, Republic Publicité + Design Inc.
Lamothe cited three potential offences under the Canada Elections Act.
The Conservative Party and its fundraising arm, the Conservative Fund Canada, are separately alleged to have knowingly spent more than the allowable national $18.2 million limit.
The third allegation comes under the obligation to file "true and complete reports." The allegation is that the party's official agent filed returns with Elections Canada "that it knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement" on its expenses.
The range of penalties for exceeding the election expense limit for a party's chief agent is a $1,000 fine, three months imprisonment or both. A registered party is liable to a $25,000 fine.
The documents released yesterday include candidates' returns, emails and correspondence the agency had obtained between party officials, candidates, and its advertising agency.

In one email, Newfoundland Tory official Brian Hudson wrote that local campaigns could use that rebate "in whatever way your team desires (pay off election debt or use towards credit)."
The people acting as the "official agents" for the Tory candidates were given precise, step-by-step instructions in how the transfer would work.
And in every case, Conservative head office first demanded that the local campaign provide bank wire instructions to ensure head office would get its money back.
"The transfer of funds to, and the withdrawal of similar amounts from, participating campaign bank accounts was entirely under the control and direction of the Conservative Fund Canada," the document states.
As a result, the Conservative Party – not the candidates – was obligated by the law to report the spending, Elections Canada says.
The court filing sets out examples from across the country – British Columbia, Toronto and Quebec – where investigators found local candidates who had no knowledge of the advertising pitch or any dealings with Retail Media, the firm responsible for the ad purchases.
Even Retail Media had questions about the Conservative strategy.
"While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain of this beyond all reasonable doubt," wrote a company vice-president in one email obtained by Elections Canada.
The same allegations are also at the heart of the party's civil lawsuit with Elections Canada's finance and audit branch, which last year denied rebates to 65 local candidates across the country.
The sudden raid, the seizures, and the suggestion that the party deliberately skirted elections law have sparked a blood feud between the governing party and Elections Canada, an independent agency.
Dropping the moderate language about a "visit" from investigators, party officials yesterday said the RCMP and Elections Canada officials "stormed Conservative party headquarters."
Investigators lined 16 or 18 people up along a hallway, one party official said, "like we were going to shoot back? I mean they had ... unfettered access to every single thing in Conservative party headquarters. They removed 17 boxes of material specific to our lawsuit, all the background stuff."
"They took away our tactics and our strategy" for the court case, said the official.
He also said the raid went well beyond the scope of the warrant, with investigators gathering information that had nothing to do with the issue.
"What does my computer and what's on there about the next campaign strategy, the next platform, the next ad campaign, and everything else, what the hell has that got to do with Elections Canada?" another official said.
"This is absolutely over the top."
Much of the seized material is likely to be the subject of legal arguments over whether it is subject to solicitor-client privilege.
Lamothe's affidavit asked for the documents to be sealed by the court, saying the investigation would be compromised if its information was made public, and witnesses who were already unco-operative would be further "chilled" from assisting.
He said investigators had interviewed 14 candidates or official agents, and had tried but failed to interview additional witnesses.
He said 16 of 18 individuals "declined to be interviewed and stated to investigators that they have been advised by counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada that they should not speak with Elections Canada investigators without the involvement of counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada," citing the ongoing civil case.
One official said the party has never denied its campaigns are "centrally organized... that our national campaigns and our regional organizers were the drivers for this."
All ads contained the necessary local taglines, he said.
But some candidates who agreed to go in on buying advertising time "had second thoughts," and had to be told it was "too late" to later pull out. "It's all part of running a modern, integrated national campaign."
Conservative officials scoffed at suggestions extra spending by the national campaign might have made the difference in a dozen or so ridings and helped the party win the election.
"The fundamental question here is this: who has the right to determine how a party electorally advertises itself?" said one.
"I believe I have the right to determine that if I wanted to use Stephen Harper and the central message to advertise regionally, I should be allowed to do that ... "
But last night, Pat Martin, the NDP ethics critic, told The Canadian Press that "heads should roll" if the Tories are found to have broken the election rules.
"That $1 million frankly could have bought the election," said Martin. "That's a really big advertising buy in a very close, razor-thin difference in a federal election."
The Tory official said "this is not just about money or rebates."
If it was, he suggested, there were easier ways for the party to get $1.1 million than "out of the hide of Elections Canada."


With files from Bruce Campion-Smith
BEHIND RAID ON TORY HEADQUARTERS
Bruce Campion-Smith
Elections Canada investigators, helped by the RCMP, last week raided an Ottawa office that is home to the Conservative Party of Canada and the Conservative Fund Canada.
• The allegation: That the Conservative Party of Canada exceeded its maximum spending amount during the campaign for the Jan. 23, 2006 election, contrary to the Canada Elections Act. As well, Elections Canada alleges that the party knowingly filed "false or misleading statements" in its expenses return.
How did the party allegedly break the rules? Elections Canada says the Tories engaged in a deliberate campaign to skirt spending rules by transferring money to 67 local candidates – ostensibly for the purchase of campaign advertising. But those ads were bought – and paid for – by head office. And within days of the money transfer, the cash was sent back to Tory HQ. The transactions "created the appearance that, for the required reporting to Elections Canada, some of the expenses were incurred by the various candidates," according to the information filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in support of the search warrant.
This cash shuffle allowed the Conservatives to spend more than $1 million above their spending limit, the court filing says.
"It is alleged that the expenses were actually incurred by the Conservative Party of Canada and not by the candidates who claimed the media buy transactions as their own," it says.
Candidates who participated in the scheme then claimed the ad spending as an election expense – for a rebate from the federal government, even though the money never came out of their pocket.
What did they search for? Correspondence, emails, invoices, receipts, accounts, records of payment, transfers of funds, contracts concerning the production and purchase of media advertising.
The party's defence: Conservative officials insist the cash transfers are legal and above board and say similar cash transfers between head office and local campaigns were made by the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois.
 

cacruden

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You don't get or execute search warrants in civil lawsuits.

Yes you can, I was just watching something about it in relation to Michael Ritter case in Alberta where the power was misused - i.e. it was used in a civil case

Micheal Ritter was suing people (civil) that use to work for him in a preemptive strike to try shut them down before someone listened to them....

The people that he terrorized ended up being ruined, and settled out of court....

It only delayed the inevitable collapse of his criminal activities.
 

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Kady O'Mally's blog from macleans.ca.... truly bizarre.



Sunday in the hotel hallway with Ryan Sparrow

Kady O'Malley | April 20, 2008 | 21:48:51 | Permalink

kady.omalley@macleans.rogers.com
Y'all, it's been a day:

A search warrant that led to last week's raid of Conservative Party headquarters will be released Monday by an Ontario court, but it was made public Sunday to some media by the Tories, the CBC's Keith Boag reported.

The Conservatives, who already have the warrant containing hundreds of pages of documents on CD-ROM, gave private briefings about it in Ottawa to select media, including the Toronto Star and CTVglobemedia, Boag said.

CBC News requested to attend the briefings, but was rejected and told by party spokesman Ryan Sparrow that it was a private meeting, Boag said, adding reporters from the Canadian Press, Maclean's magazine and Canwest Global Communications Corp. were also not permitted to attend.

Giving some reporters a briefing before Monday's court release of the warrant allows the party a chance to shape the story, but it also creates the impression that the Conservatives need to spin it, Boag said.
I can confirm that macleans.ca was most emphatically not welcome on the voyage. However, being unable to take a hint, we wound up hanging out in the hallway outside the backup briefing room - hastily arranged after word of the first meeting was leaked - with various other uninvited media guests: CBC, Canadian Press, and the Halifax Chronicle Herald and CanWest News, which had, in fact, originally been on the list, but was abruptly disinvited when the Conservatives realized who had been sent to cover the story.

These now infamous "private briefings" for select journalists - many* of whom were shocked to find out that they had been invited to an exclusive event - were made public almost immediately, which was was pretty much inevitable from the moment that Conservative Party media wrangler Ryan Sparrow sent out a notice to his handpicked journalistic prey. Contrary to everything that he ought to have learned in the two years and change that he's been on the Hill, he still doesn't seem to have grasped the fact that reporters talk to each other. Yes, even reporters from competing news outlets. No, it's not a conspiracy. It's just what happens when there's a body of media assigned to cover a particular beat, like, say, Canadian politics.

(For further enlightenment, read Good Omens, and pay special attention to the Crowley/Aziraphale dynamic; to wit: those on the front lines often have more in common with each other than they do with their respective superiors, no matter how seemingly conflicting their motives may be.)

Anyway, that's I spent the better part of my day: first trying to track down the not-really-a-press-conference-more-of-a-private-meeting which was moved from the Lord Elgin (lovely patio, yay!) to the Sheraton (no patio, boo!) after the initial outing, and then hanging around outside, waiting for Ryan Sparrow, Doug Finley and - yes, really - the semi-mythical Paul Lepsoe
to emerge from the boardroom where they were briefing the few journalists who turned up before some sensible type back at Tory HQ called off the whole tete-a-teteage midway through the afternoon. (Eventually, they scuttled down a fire exit, although according to the camera crew that was there to capture the escape, on film they resisted the traditional jacket-over-the-head look so favoured by those fleeing the fourth estate.)

I'm sorry, by the way, that I wasn't able to liveblog the festivities - no wifi, and I didn't want to bug my colleagues to post on my behalf on a Sunday. I'm even more sorry I didn't get a copy of the warrant - which, according to the court, won't be released until Monday morning, and which, according to Peter Van Loan, the party had never even seen in its entirety as of Friday morning, which makes me wonder how the Conservatives got it scanned and burned to CD-ROM between then and now. But, on the plus side, I got to scrum Mike Duffy, and how often does that happen, really?

*As The Wells notes, Tonda MacCharles was one of the chosen (very, as it turned out) few Hill reporters to make it on the official invite list. Somehow, though, I doubt that "TORIES VIOLATED ELECTIONS LAW: ELECTIONS CANADA" was exactly the headline that Ryan Sparrow was hoping she'd write.

UPDATE: The consistently awesome David Akin, now of CanWest, managed to get his hands on the warrant, even though he wasn't on the invite list, and it sounds as though the details may be well worth the wait:

Search warrant cites 'false and misleading statements' on Conservative ads


The agent for the federal Conservative Party in the last general election "made materially false and misleading statements" on its financial returns, Canada's elections commissioner alleges in the court documents that convinced a judge to grant a request for a search warrant of Conservative Party headquarters last week.

In his blog post, David also notes that the Conservatives tried - unsuccessfully, I should note - to have reporters not on the list evicted from the Sheraton hallway. It's moments like that which allow the spirit of transparency, openness and accountability that Stephen Harper pledged to bring to Ottawa to shine like the sun. (And thanks to the Sheraton management for not giving into the squeaks of protest, and allowing us to stay where we were, and do our job.)

UPPITYDATER: Canadian Press gives a surprisingly similar version of events, although I have to quibble with the description of the briefing as a "bizarre farce"; I maintain that it was, in fact, a glorious, if entirely unintended satire:

Senior Conservative officials, including campaign director Doug Finley, chief media spokesman Ryan Sparrow and party lawyer Paul Lepsoe held briefings Sunday for hand-picked journalists in a downtown hotel room in an effort to shape the emerging story ahead of the warrant's release.

When other reporters learned of the briefing, party officials switched the encounter from the Lord Elgin hotel two blocks west to the Sheraton.

That effort proved fruitless. The uninvited reporters quickly learned of the new location and gathered in the hallway outside the meeting room. Sparrow opened and quickly closed the door on prying journalists.

"This is a private meeting," he repeatedly told the CBC's Keith Boag.

Those who managed to get inside the door were handed a sheaf of documents and a CD-ROM containing the warrant and affidavit material.

Sources say the accompanying spin session touched on most of the same points the party has been making since the raid.

But none of the officials would repeat their lines in public when they emerged from the hotel room to be greeted by reporters who weren't on their guest list.

Instead they scurried for a nearby exit and beat a hasty retreat down the fire stairs.

An earlier effort to ease their difficulties failed when a hotel manager unsuccessfully tried to convince the waiting journalists to leave the premises.

He relented after the assembled media unanimously rejected his request.

The Canadian Press, the CBC, Maclean's, the Globe and Mail and the Halifax Chronicle Herald were among those who were not invited to the party's briefing at a downtown hotel.

Yeah, "horribly awry", as The Globe and Mail describes what it charitably refers to as a "plan", pretty much sums up the day:

On Saturday night, Mr. Sparrow called a number of reporters to ask them to come to meetings that had been scheduled for yesterday at the Lord Elgin Hotel in downtown Ottawa saying it “would be worth their while.â€

But media outlets who were not among those invited got wind of the meetings yesterday morning and began to ask what was going on.

When one reporter asked in an e-mail about the news conference, Mr. Sparrow replied: “No conference, not sure where you got that from.â€

The reporter then flipped Mr. Sparrow back an e-mail in which he had told another reporter who was on the list that the briefing would be at “4:30 Lord Elgin, Boardroom 800. Embargo until 7:30 pm Sunday night.â€

To which Mr. Sparrow replied: “I meet with journalists privately all the time.â€

Shortly thereafter, the Liberals found out about the briefings and advised all of the Ottawa press gallery, some of whom were quite miffed to find they had been excluded. When they threatened to show up at the Lord Elgin, despite the lack of an invitation, the meeting was secretly moved to the Sheraton.

The first briefing for select television outlets took place but, by that time, the excluded reporters found out the new location and began to stake out the hotel.

That led the Conservatives to cancel all subsequent briefings, including the one they had planned with The Globe. And Mr. Sparrow, Mr. Finley and Mr. Lepsoe fled from the Sheraton down a back set of stairs.
 

unimaginative2

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When in doubt, blame somebody

May 06, 2008 04:30 AM
James Travers
Toronto Star

OTTAWA — Poor old Gordon O'Connor just can't seem to share the same song sheet with other Conservatives. He was so far out of tune with Rick Hillier that Stephen Harper tap danced the then defence minister out of the spotlight. Now O'Connor is at it again.

Few Ottawa jobs demand less than holding open the gaping tax bag. Yet in compensating for another service delivery snafu the revenue minister twice got it wrong.

First he missed a wonderful opportunity. Anyone paying attention to the master communications plan would have followed the bouncing ball to blame the capital's closest Liberal bureaucrat for sabotaging Internet filing. After all, it's self-evident in a twitchy town constantly glancing over its suspicious shoulder that National Revenue is every bit as bent on embarrassing Conservatives as Elections Canada, judges, senators, the media or nuclear safety sentry Linda Keen.

O'Connor was off-key again in fingering lazy taxpayers while grudgingly extending the filing – but not the payment – deadline until midnight tonight. Imagine how long the corner coffee shop would last if it scolded sleepyheads to roll out of bed earlier to get a doughnut.

That who-cares, monopolistic indifference is half the double whammy wrecking Ottawa's relations with those it serves. The other is the twisted logic that puts government at war with itself.

Distrust is a constant when a party long in opposition comes to power. But Conservatives are turning a common reflex into the steady erosion of the few pillars still supporting trust in public institutions.

That's rarely been more obvious than in the no-prisoners decision to shield the party's in-and-out campaign financing scheme by questioning Elections Canada's independence. Even though the plan flunks the sniff test, Conservatives have every right to challenge the specific ruling. They are dead wrong to suggest overarching partisan motive.

Institutions, as Conservative guru Tom Flanagan argues in his party's defence, are imperfect. It's just that they are not selectively imperfect. Yes, civil servants, the courts, those charged with government oversight and the media all make mistakes. But it's damaging as well as delusional to conclude they are willing components in a co-ordinated, centre-left conspiracy.

Still, the tune plays well with core Conservatives comfortable in their suspension of disbelief. They are convinced mandarins more convincingly accused of being too compliant to all political masters would much rather serve Liberals. That judges who put highest value on their legal reputations willingly sacrifice their independence to please the appointing Prime Minister. That independent watchdogs are happiest when biting the hand that feeds them bark loudest at these ruling strangers. And that a national press gallery that exposed Liberal scandals, branded Paul Martin as Mr. Dithers and are now making Stéphane Dion's life miserable are party hacks who can't wait to see Conservative backs.

Apart from being palpable nonsense, all that paranoia misses the point. Imperfect though they are, those are the safeguards, the checks and balances in a system that between elections limit the remarkable power of prime ministers.

If these former reformers are serious about real reform they have two obvious places to start. Rather than blame the consumer, they could try harder to improve the experience when citizens and government intersect.

And they could support instead of undermine the few institutions able to repair the broken Conservative election promise to be accountable.



James Travers' national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
 

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