Calgary Liberal MP George Chahal fined for election flyer controversy

·4 min read
Glenn Pennett says the flyer on the left, which includes improper polling station information, was left by George Chahal. Chahal says he removed Conservative candidate Jag Sahota's flyer, right, because it contained incorrect information about polling station location. Sahota's flyer was provided to CBC News by her lawyer.  (Guardian Law Group  - image credit)
Glenn Pennett says the flyer on the left, which includes improper polling station information, was left by George Chahal. Chahal says he removed Conservative candidate Jag Sahota's flyer, right, because it contained incorrect information about polling station location. Sahota's flyer was provided to CBC News by her lawyer. (Guardian Law Group - image credit)

Calgary's lone Liberal MP says he has paid a fine after a doorbell camera captured him removing an opponent's campaign flyer and replacing it with one of his own on the eve of the last federal election.

The video showed George Chahal, who won Calgary Skyview for the Liberals in the September 2021 federal election, walking up to a constituent's front door in the northeast Calgary neighbourhood of Temple on Sept. 19.

Chahal removed a flyer put there by members of Conservative incumbent Jag Sahota's campaign team, which included instructions on how and where to vote.

Though Calgary police did not investigate any criminal wrongdoing, the incident prompted an investigation by the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections (OCCE) in late September.

On Tuesday morning, Chahal tweeted that he has accepted and paid a $500 administrative penalty for the incident.

"I want to again apologize and acknowledge my mistake," Chahal's tweet read.

Chahal said Tuesday the fine had been assessed by Elections Canada.

But the OCCE later clarified that it had issued a notice of violation to Chahal and imposed the administrative monetary penalty (AMP), not Elections Canada, as indicated in his tweet.

"The AMP … is intended to address violations related to preventing or impairing the transmission of election advertising and amounted to $500," Véronique Aupry, who is with the OCCE, said via email.

Polling station location disputed in flyer swap

After the video circulated online in the days following the election, Chahal's campaign said that he took Sahota's flyer because it contained incorrect polling information.

But the flyer left by Chahal and provided to CBC News by homeowner Glenn Pennett, a retired police officer, directed the voter to a polling station 16 kilometres from the one where he said he was required to cast a ballot.

Sahota's lawyer, Kyle Shewchuk, provided CBC News with a copy of the flyer he said was identical to the one taken by Chahal, which includes information about the proper polling station.

Guardian Law Group
Guardian Law Group

The OCCE told CBC News in September that a section of the Canada Elections Act addresses defacing or removing election signs or other election advertisements.

The penalties set out in the act include a of fine of up to $5,000 and the possibility of up to six months in prison. The commissioner can also use informal means — like a caution or an information letter — to resolve a complaint.

In a summary of Chahal's violation posted online Tuesday, the OCCE said it received multiple complaints about the September incident, and that Chahal admitted to investigators that he removed the other candidate's flyer.

The final $500 amount of the AMP took into account one mitigating and one aggravating factor, the OCCE said.

While Chahal and his campaign team immediately and consistently co-operated with its investigation, the OCCE said that when candidates don't follow the rules, there can be a "loss of public confidence."

"A mitigating factor was applied as George Chahal provided all reasonable assistance to the Commissioner with respect to the violation," the summary said.

"The OCCE also applied an aggravating factor based on the circumstances. The failure for candidates to comply with the rules adopted by Parliament can contribute to a loss of public confidence in the integrity of members of the political class, which may, as a result, increase voter apathy."

Matter not resolved, opponent's lawyer says

Meanwhile, in a statement provided to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon, Shewchuk said Sahota welcomes the decision to fine Chahal, and his admission of wrongdoing — but also said it does not resolve the matter.

Shewchuk previously said in September that his firm would be filing a Court of Queen's Bench application to invalidate the election results in Calgary Skyview.

On Tuesday he said the firm will continue its application "so that voters can be certain of the proper result."

"Voters need to know if theft of campaign literature was a widespread activity and whether a different election result would have otherwise occurred," Shewchuk said.

"Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to tell Calgary-Skyview voters what he is prepared to do about this clear violation from a member of his caucus."

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