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Robocalls: Why You Should Give A Shit

Unless we’re going to start referring a murder as a “whoopsy daisy” or a rape as “heavy petting,” I see no reason for this particular crime to be given a polite term.
March 30, 2012, 4:00am

When it comes to Canadian news and politics, most people your age (tweens? I don’t know) are either very informed or not at all. The latter being the large majority of you. And I don’t blame you, Canadian politics aren’t super sexy like they are in the U.S. You know, with all their tweeting of dick pix and placards of dead fetuses. But Canadian politics are charming in their own old-man-trying-to-work-his-iPhone sort of way. So take my hand and come with me while I guide you on an exciting journey from ‘not at all’ to ‘just barely’.

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Today, we’re discussing the enormous pile of shit with no end in sight known as the “robocall scandal.” If you’re new to this issue, here’s a recap: In February, two Postmedia journalists reported that phone calls misdirecting non-Conservative voters to the wrong polling station were made in at least 14 electoral ridings on election day. This is a voter suppression tactic and it’s illegal. International organizations usually send in election observers to places like Myanmar to make sure shit like this doesn’t happen. Which means that our elections now face the same issues as countries held under military rule for 50 years. So that’s kinda concerning. Calls made in one of those ridings were traced back to a burner bought with a pre-paid credit card registered to a real person with the hilarious fake-name “Pierre Poutine”. Mr. Poutine used that burner to set up an account with Racknine Inc, a robocall company used by the Conservative Party during the election. Robocalls work like this: you provide a company with the phone numbers you’d like contacted and the message you want delivered, and they get a robot to make those calls for a small fee. Or something. Close enough. Elections Canada announced this week that they are now officially looking into 200 federal ridings where 800 complaints were made about some form of voter suppression: Some received robocalls, others heard from people posing as Elections Canada or the Liberal Party, some were even first identified as non-Conservative voters before being told their polling station had changed. *unimpressed emoticon face* Earlier this week, a citizen’s group formally filed a legal challenge to overturn the results in seven ridings where voter suppression occurred. Each of these ridings were won by a Conservative candidate by less than 1000 votes. In one riding, Nipissing -Timiskaming, a Conservative candidate won by only 18 votes! That’s basically two baseball teams. Or one soccer team and seven homeless people hanging around the field. Or one basketball teams and the 13 homeless people that hang out in the lobby of the community center. Regardless of how many homeless people you use to make this analogy, it’s an incredibly small margin. Some have claimed that the calls were the result of an overzealous junior staffer or a rogue element (whatever that is), but one thing’s for sure, it was a highly-complicated, well-funded operation with access to voter ID information that only certain people in a political campaign can obtain. So, unless some low to mid-level campaigner just happened across thousands of phone numbers belonging to opposition voters and had a tens of thousands of dollars to spend, this was not just some overzealous junior staffer or rogue element. Some MPs have made unnecessarily bold claims that their party had nothing to do with it, but all parties are suspect. And besides, politicians trying absolve themselves from guilt is as natural to them as breathing. If they stopped doing it, they’d die. One thing I’ve noticed during the coverage of the scandal is that journalists continue to refer to this voter suppression as “dirty tricks.” Well, it’s actually more than a dirty trick, it’s a crime that can earn you five years in jail. So why the euphemism? Unless we’re going to start referring a murder as a “whoopsy daisy” or a rape as “heavy petting,” I see no reason for this particular crime to given a polite term. What’s more, is that right-wing pundits and Conservative politicians are saying that this is all overblown and that there’s no substance to the scandal. Which is insane, because even without the finger-pointing or a smoking gun, IT’S STILL A PRETTY HUGE SCANDAL. How is voter suppression, something we in the West smugly condemn in developing nations, not an absolute affront on the democratic process? It’s one thing to be cynical about partisan politics, but democracy? C’mon. Hate the player, not the game. Regardless of who’s implicated in this mess, it’s essential that Canadian politicians, the media, and us citizens understand exactly what’s at stake: Our faith in democracy and the belief that our vote even matters. To treat it as anything but we run the risk of alienating an entire generation of voters. And as voter turnouts become smaller each election, people can lament about how us kids these days just don’t care about politics, but if something like this isn’t taken seriously, why should we?
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Cameron Reed co-founded ShitHarperDid.com and currently works as a copywriter for an ad agency. He also makes electronic music for Warp Records under the unfortunate moniker Babe Rainbow. It’s very likely you know more than him, and what better way to prove it than in a comment section. Great job.