Surrey’s Chief Election Officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Police set up tip line for possible election fraud victims in Surrey

RCMP says it’s only received ‘third-party’ allegations so far

A leader of the grassroots anti-crime group Wake Up Surrey, which alerted the RCMP last week to allegations of election fraud involving Surrey’s South Asian community, says there’s no room for “dirty” Punjab-type politics in this city and claims “black money” from India is being invested here.

“We call it black money, it’s underground economy, you know, like the money that can’t be going into Swiss bank accounts, it’s being now couriered over here and invested,” Sukhi Sandu said. “Into real estate. Corruption has been happening in the Punjab for many, many years.”

Sandhu said Punjab used to be the “engine” of India but now there is a lot of social decay there. “Many people have brought those same habits here. We don’t want that. We want to safeguard our city and we want to safeguard our Canadian values. For some people, regretably, public service is only about making money, and that’s not what we want.”

Surrey RCMP Sergeant Chad Grieg told the Now-Leader earlier this week police are “assessing” Wake Up Surrey’s letter of complaint alleging “fraudulent use of absentee ballots” and “buying votes” in the lead-up to Surrey’s Oct. 20 civic election.

Sandhu says “there was a plan that was conceived in one of the election campaigns, and it was to manipulate our democracy, which is shocking. We can’t tolerate this. To use this mentality of let’s attack the credibility of those who exposed it, if you want to play that politics just don’t come to this country. We’re Canadian citizens, we don’t want this in our city. We’re proud of our South Asian community, but we don’t want this.”

Corporal Elenore Sturko said that by late Wednesday the RCMP had received “only third-party allegations of any wrongdoing in the election process. No individuals have come forward to the Surrey RCMP to say that they have been victimized in any matters related to the voting process.”

She said police received 72 mail ballot registrations from Surrey’s chief elections officer “as a result of some noted irregularities in the applications” and investigators are reviewing each “to ensure the legitimacy of each application and whether or not the irregularities were as a result of an innocent error on the part of the applicant.”

Police have set up a dedicated tip line for this investigation, at 604-599-7848.

“It is extremely important that we receive first-hand complaints from any individuals who may have been victimized so we can properly investigate these incidents,” Sturko said. “We understand the time-sensitivity of this situation and have dedicated a significant number of resources and a new tip line to this investigation so the citizens of Surrey can be confident in the election process.”

Sandhu could not agree more.

“As a citizen of Surrey we’re all concerned — everyone wants a free and fair election, and that’s about Canadian values,” Sandhu said. “Members of our South Asian community are also increasingly alarmed of the intimidation in this election, the behaviour of a certain segment to bring Punjab-type politics here. This dirty politics, we don’t want in our city, and over the past few years I think it’s fair to say this small segment in our community that is starting to ruin our overall image…we want to build our city the right way.”

READ ALSO: Surrey’s chief election officer assures voters integrity of elections process is intact

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”We want to think about our children, our youth, our neighborhoods, we want our community integrating,” he said. “But there is this small segment, it’s become more and more obvious, that is trying to manipulate politics at the federal and provincial and municipal level for just monetary gain. They don’t understand the meaning of civic pride, they don’t understand the meaning of social good, these people are consumed with manipulating politics for financial wealth.”

Sandhu declined to name names.

“There’s a group of them, and there’s a group of these people that are aligned to one, in this election for the most part, they’re aligned to one particular campaign. I’m sure there’s some of these opportunist people that are aligned in the other campaigns but not to this extent,” he said.

“We’ve disclosed it in private, yes (to the RCMP),” Sandhu said. But publicly? “We would much rather the police deal with this. Under no circumstance did we want to get involved in this but when there’s intimidation, when there is unethical behavior.

“It’s not fun, we’re going through hell,” Sandhu said. “It affects the family, the stress. These guys are thugs. They are desperate to manipulate our city hall for financial gain. And you know, with the marijuana licences coming up. I also blame our South Asian politicians because they’re the ones that give these people a false status.”

“No South Asian politician ever calls these people out,” he charged. “None of them. They never have any courage.”

“This certain element in our community seems to think political participation is a ticket to financial wealth. Well maybe in the Third World it’s like that; not in Canada. These people never bring up issues, they never bring up public policy, and they run like a bunch of thugs. It’s about power, greed and misusing the system.”

Earlier this week the city posted an “Election Alert — Fraudulent Calls” advisory on its website.

It said the chief election officer has received complaints that anonymous callers claiming to be election officials are phoning residents about voting cards and asking for personal information. It advises the public to beware of these fraudulent calls, to not give out personal information and to call police at 604-599-0502 if you receive a call of this nature.

Meantime, news reports indicate some post-secondary students in Surrey, who were not identified, believe they were innocently caught up in a potential election fraud scheme where they were paid $100 for their names, addresses and date of birth.

Sturko did not confirm if police are looking into this.

On Monday Surrey’s Chief Election Officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci stressed that despite the allegations, “Our voting process has not been compromised.” He said he is confident that the procedures in place will preserve the integrity of the mail ballot process but advised anyone with information that may assist the RCMP in reviewing the allegations of unlawful activity to call the RCMP “immediately.”

Asked who is the subject of the RCMP investigation, he replied, “I can’t comment on that. I don’t have anything to say on that.”

Wake Up Surrey’s 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. Concerning fears that this could potentially affect thousands of votes in the election, Capuccinello said “I would say it’s not the case. First we have received 160 and we have a process in place where each applicant that has properly completed an application has to attend our offices and produce identification and sign acknowledging receipt of that application.”

“This has never been raised as an issue,” he said. “This has never been a concern and isn’t a concern now.”

Capuccinello said that by Monday his office had received roughly 160 general applications for a mail ballot. In comparison, he noted, in the 2014 civic election 177 mail ballot general applications were received, “not to be confused with care facility applications that are also part of the mail ballot process.” Fifty-seven were picked up, he said. “That’s for the entire election period.”

Fifteen thousand, of course, is a far cry from 160. To that, Sandhu had this to say.

“Everyone knows that our community has been exploited in the past for mass memberships and leadership contests and nominations and everybody knows when you participate in that sort of activity, you do not drop all of the nomination forms or memberships or in this case mail-in ballots right at the beginning,” Sandhu said. “For the most part, 70 or 80 per cent come in the last two or three days.”

The mail ballot applications are downloadable online. Of the 160 that were reviewed, Capuccinello Irac, said, some raised suspicions, which his office reported to RCMP.

About 15 were picked up Friday, when the pickup process began. “They were given to people who were entitled to them,” he said. “They have met the criteria.”

How many applications were suspicious? “I’m not going to comment on that,” he said. ”The RCMP has been informed. What is suspicious to myself and suspicious to the deputy chief elections officer, may not be suspicions that are shared by the RCMP, so I’m not really in a position to second guess what their views are.”

“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 explained.

“The applicant will also be required to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the mail ballot package.”

Of the application for mail-in ballots received to date, he noted, “These do not include applications for a mail ballot specific to care facilities that are being personally administered by election officials.”

General applications for a mail ballot are “reviewed by me, the chief election officer,” he said, adding the procedure is set out in City of Surrey bylaw number 17393, enacted pursuant to Section 110 of the Local Government Act.

“The bylaw contemplates a review of the application as well as a decision by the chief election officer on how the mail ballot package will be made available. Although the application allows for an applicant to indicate a preference on how he or she wishes to receive a mail ballot package, that is merely an expression of a preference. The ultimate decision on how the mail ballot package is made available is made by the chief election officer.”

Capuccinello Iraci said “accommodations will be considered” on a “case-by-case” business for people who are disabled, ill or injured “who have declared in their application for a mail ballot their inability to vote in person on that basis.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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