OTTAWA — Elections Canada investigators on the trail of the "Pierre Poutine" suspect in the robocalls case have been asking questions about the actions of staff at Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa.
Nearly a year after the investigation began, the agency is trying to determine why database records provided by the party appear to be missing entries that could help identify who downloaded the phone numbers used to make fraudulent robocalls, according to a source familiar with the probe.
Investigators also are inquiring about a phone call from Conservative headquarters, made the day before the election, to RackNine, the Edmonton voice-broadcasting company whose servers were used to send out the robocalls.
On May 2, 2011, thousands of opposition supporters in Guelph, Ont., received a pre-recorded message directing them to vote at the wrong polling station. The electronic trail behind the calls eventually discovered led to a disposable cellphone registered in the fake name of Pierre Poutine.
The party has repeatedly and firmly denied that anybody in its Ottawa offices had anything to do with the Poutine drama, and until recently, the investigation has focused on the team of workers on the unsuccessful campaign of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke.
"As you know, we have proactively reached out to Elections Canada and offered to assist them in any way we can," party spokesman Fred DeLorey said Monday night. "That includes handing over any documents or records that may assist them."
But investigators are now combing over access logs for the Conservatives’ Constituent Information Management System (CIMS) to determine who downloaded a list of phone numbers for non-Conservative supporters in Guelph.
They are now certain the list of numbers in Guelph that received the robocalls came directly from CIMS, according to the source. The CIMS data were compared to listings of the outgoing robocalls provided under court order by RackNine and matched perfectly, the source said.
Investigators Al Mathews and Ronald Lamothe are now trying to determine who had access to a list of voters who previously had been identified as non-Conservatives.
Non-supporter data are entered into CIMS by volunteers collecting information during neighbourhood canvasses and by phone bank workers contracted by the party.
CIMS is known for its tight access controls and detailed event logging and retains a digital record of every transaction on the database. Interns and volunteers have been sanctioned when the logs showed they had looked up Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s listing, for example.
The investigators have inquired about CIMS logs for one particular user in the party’s headquarters. The logs show blanks between this person’s CIMS logon and logoff on the day the Guelph data was accessed, according to the source.
Also of interest is a call to RackNine made on May 1, the day before the vote, from a number in the Conservative party war room in Ottawa.
The number is listed as belonging to Chris Rougier, who was identified as the party’s manager of voter relation programs. It usually rings on his desk at party headquarters on Albert Street in downtown Ottawa, but was forwarded to the party’s south Ottawa war room for the duration of the campaign.
Rougier was a key member of the target seat team, working directly under campaign manager Jenni Byrne, acting as a liaison with vendors providing telephone services to the campaign.
There is no indication Rougier was involved in the Poutine scheme, only that Mathews was inquiring why his phone line would be used by someone to place a call to RackNine.
Another party official who made calls to RackNine, Rebecca Rogers, worked on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cross-country tour and used the voice-broadcasting service to arrange robocalls to promote campaign events.
Other calls — from the offices of Conservative MPs Chris Warkentin and Julian Fantino — were made to the same line to record robocalls promoting events or to get out the vote.
The call from Rougier’s phone to RackNine is the only one the party has failed to explain in detail to reporters, in spite of repeated requests.
"He called to set up legitimate dials," DeLorey said last week. "As I said in the past, we used RackNine for legitimate calls during the campaign."
The fact that Elections Canada is making inquiries about activities in the Conservative war room appears to conflict with the conclusion of an internal probe, led by Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, who was asked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to get to the bottom of the matter.
Hamilton, a veteran who handled the party’s legal business in the In and Out elections-spending affair and the Helena Guergis scandal, is said to have concluded that no party workers outside of Guelph are implicated, a point that party representatives repeatedly emphasize.
Hamilton launched his investigation after Mathews flew to Edmonton in November to serve a production order on RackNine.
After learning of the investigation, sources say, Hamilton interviewed key party workers, asking them about their knowledge of events and instructing them not to discuss the matter publicly.
It is unclear if Hamilton had access to the same data from RackNine provided to Elections Canada under court order.
One source says RackNine owner Matt Meier transferred the same electronic files to the Conservative party that he provided to Elections Canada.
Meier said in a Twitter message in March that he had transferred nothing to Ottawa that would affect the investigation.
"We’re not providing anything that would compromise EC’s investigation," he said.
Meier’s lawyer, Justin Matthews, would not say Monday what files his client gave to the party, and said his client "hopes that the investigation successfully identifies who committed these acts, in short order."
Meier has told reporters he did an exhaustive search of his electronic records, eventually coming up with the IP address leading to a single computer in Guelph used by the person who set up the misdirecting robocalls.
That touched off speculation that Elections Canada would soon be closing in on a suspect, but sources say investigators have instead been asking people connected with the affair about the role of the central party office.
Conservatives in Guelph had circulated rumours that Elections Canada had executed a search warrant on a street in the city’s downtown but none of the neighbours contacted by the Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News said they saw anything unusual.
In an affidavit filed to obtain a production order to trace the email account used by the culprit in Guelph, Mathews wrote that Meier set up the account after he received a phone call from someone who gave him a reference.
"Pierre initially called Meier on Meier’s unlisted extension directly and asked for him by name," Mathews wrote. "Pierre referred to knowing someone in the Conservative Party. In Meier’s view, these facts meant that someone must have given Pierre his contact information."
Meier has not revealed what name was cited by the person establishing the fake account.© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen