UPDATE: I’ve made some changes to the chart, adding the TIDES Foundation and their New Age plastic shaman centre Hollyhock. I also added the Ottawa event, where Brigette DePape spoke. The results were quite telling…
When I first read about the Robocall scandal in February, 2012, the allegations shocked me. If it was true that the Conservative Party was using auto-diallers to guide voters en-masse to the wrong polling locations, it would have been an affront to our country’s democracy. There wasn’t much information available back then, but I did my best to dig-in and see what I could find.
A couple of days later I saw an event posted on Facebook by a man named Jon Allan, a meeting to plan a protest. Wanting to learn more about the Robocall issue I figured this could be a good place to start. I also had an idea I wanted to share- that, rather than using all of the scandal’s energy to complain about the past, why not use this as an opportunity to get more people to vote in the future! I’d led US voter registration drives back when I was in university, and thought we could replicate the idea by setting-up a table and a laptop.
Walking into the meeting, one would never had expected it was anything but grassroots. We sat in the basement of Trinity-St Paul’s United Church, in a room used for teaching small children- it was almost too grassroots. Then as time passed and the first protest came to fruition, it quickly became obvious I was observing an AstroTurf fraud.
The Planning Meeting:
When the meeting began, a random seeming group of people sat themselves down on undersized children’s chairs. Jon Allan facilitated and led the group; starting off by passionately explaining his belief that a great wrong was committed and that it was our job to call for remedy. He also told us that he had taken a leadership position at the rallies protesting the government proroguing Parliament in 2013. We then all agreed to keep strictly non-partisan.
One of the people who stuck out most in the room was a tall well-dressed (with impeccable posture) man named Derek Soberal, a highly-visible Toronto protester who I would later learn has the reputation for being one of the city’s most unabashed cop-baiters. Almost every sentence of Soberal’s excited outbursts included the word “Harper”, a few times calling for the government to be immediately disbanded.
I tried to point out to him (and a couple of others in the room) that it was much too early to make such demands, there hadn’t even been an investigation. Jon appeared to understand that and helped bring back our focus- we agreed that what we were calling for was an investigation, not a revolution.
At the end I’d found myself volunteering to set up a website and a Twitter account. Jon told us that he had a volunteer from the ‘Palestinian community’ who would be providing a truck, a sound system, and expert knowledge on how to organize a parade.
Halfway through our meeting a team from the CBC arrived; it was a bit embarrassing being seen sitting in our funny little chairs. Jon took a moment to speak with them, Derek did too (I’d also learn later he’s intensely attracted to cameras). There was a short story on us later that night.
A Curious Interaction With Avaaz.org:
Shortly after I setup the website, I got a curious message from Ari Pottens at Avvaz.org; the petition website where LeadNow posted their call for an investigation into the Robocalls. Ari offered to bring us some speakers, “an MP or 2 from the NDP/Liberals”. I politely declined, telling him that we had agreed (as part of our effort to be non-partisan) not to allow politicians on our stage.
Avaaz was founded by people from MoveOn.org, an American activist group that was the model behind LeadNow. Both MoveOn and Avaaz are tightly connected with the Democratic Party (as many say LeadNow is with the NDP). It felt rather creepy to have someone from an American organization (connected to a foreign political party) offering to serve up “an MP or 2”.
Rocking The Cenotaph With Calls For Revolution:
We began the first rally at Dundas Square. There was a large crowd; only 2-300 who came for the rally, but some joined from another event that just ended, and we picked-up a few who were already roaming in the square. Jon pulled me over to a truck where he gave me an orange safety vest- it would be my job to help guide the crowd to march south down Yonge street.
After a few short speeches we began herding the crowd down the street. Derek stood on the back of a pick-up truck making calls to throw Harper out of office. The people in the crowd carried their signs and chanted their chants. The march stopped at the cenotaph in front of Old City Hall, and the truck was parked beside on the street to be used as a mobile stage. The truck, it turned out, was connected to the infamous Palestine House- an organization de-funded by the government after allegations of misuse of government money.
As the second round of speeches began it started to get clear that the rally had little resemblance to what we had planned. Jon brought us some unannounced speakers that weren’t agreed on by the group. It turns out some were quite high-profile, though I didn’t know that at the time.
The first was Zafar Bangash, a controversial Richmond Hill imam, and steadfast supporter of the radicals running Iran (a country with a much less desirable [faux] democracy than our own). Besides being as thoroughly anti-Canadian as he is, Bangash also comes across as a blatant homophobe. When Toronto’s school board proposed anti-homophobia lessons for their students, Bangash responded saying on behalf of Muslims that “We don’t want our children subject to that kind of thinking” (but it was perfectly okay with him that all other children are.) As he does, Bangash spent his speech attacking the country that we had gathered to protect.
When LeadNow’s Mathew Carroll got to the stage (another surprise guest), it only took 10 seconds into his speech for him call for a revolution saying:
“It kind of feels like spring, don’t you think? Maybe, just a little bit of a Canadian Spring?”
Normally I wouldn’t have paid much attention to something like that; and I didn’t at first, figured he was just getting overexcited. But then the next surprise speaker showed-up. His name was Sherif Azer, and Jon introduced him to us as being someone who was “influential in promoting the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year”. Azer’s speech caught a lot of people’s attention- calling for a “new world order”.
Azer worked at an NGO called the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; a group funded in part by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. Azer also worked with the Toronto based International Federation of Expression Exchange, a group funded by the Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute. Jon Allen said he’s a friend who was here for his wedding- many observers felt there might be more to the story (and Jon didn’t disclose Azer’s connection to the Canadian NGO.)
As the rally ended we sent volunteers around with buckets to collect money for the next one. We then made our way to the Imperial Pub where we all had beer while we counted it- turned out that we made over $1,100.
It was obvious by this point that something was seriously wrong, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be involved with the rallies any longer; but I decided to go to the next planning meeting to see how things would go. We discussed how the message got lost, it wasn’t supposed to be a call for an overthrow of the government. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the direction it continued.
Just a few moments before I was about to announce I was walking away, Jon got a phone call. He came back a couple of minutes later telling us that Judy Rebick would be speaking at our next rally. It was this moment that things began to make sense, I looked down at my feet, visualized the AstroTurf, and walked away.
Digging Into The Truth:
So I decided I’d start digging into the Robocall rallies in other cities to see if there were any similarities between our’s and other ‘grassroots’ events. My instincts weren’t wrong; other cities were using the same logos, were connected to the same organizations- and, in the case of Vancouver, was also in front of the cenotaph (something Jon was insistent on during our first meeting).
The Vancouver rallies were organized by Sarah Beuhler, a former organizer at Occupy Vancouver who worked for OpenMedia.ca at the time (she’s since left). Beuhler organized two rallies, the first was at the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the second was in front of the cenotaph in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Unlike Toronto, the Vancouver rallies allowed politicians. Libby Davies took the stage, proclaiming that Canadians are being subjected to “American style dirty politics” (as we’ll see in a moment, she was being more honest than most people realized). Joyce Murray got all emotional claiming:
“We have over 31,000, 31,000 complaints now, about the right to vote being interfered with! How many votes is the difference between a majority Conservative government, it’s about 8,000 in 12-14,000 ridings. That’s it, 8,000 votes!”
The problem is that the number Murray said (which later grew to 40,000) is that it had nothing to do with the number of people who had actual complaints about the voting process. The people who signed the vast majority of the “complaints” were only signing a petition- not reporting incidents where they thought they’d been misled.
To be fair, it wasn’t only Joyce Murray who was shovelling the bovine excrement- the number “40,000” became part of the rallying call for dissolving the government. Sometimes people would magically increase the number- Jon Allan said at the second Toronto rally that there were 9 million complaints!
LeadNow’s executive director Jamie Biggar poured it on thick too, his speech came across like he wanted to dissolve the government. Remember, no investigation had occurred, and no court had made a decision. In hindsight, I’m more shocked at his behaviour today- as I’ll share in a moment, LeadNow knew that the vast majority of complaints weren’t real.
When I started writing about the Robocall rallies, I began by exploring the relationships between Sarah Beuhler and OpenMedia.ca. I wrote at the ending of the article that my next article would begin exploring LeadNow’s involvement; and, about a half hour after I published the story, I got a message from Jamie Biggar saying he wanted to talk and explain his side of what was happening.
I began our conversation pointing out how he, Mathew Carroll, and several other speakers were calling to dissolve our democracy without the benefit of an investigation- isn’t that contrary to LeadNow’s goals to further democracy? Biggar told me that one of his funders called him and gave a similar message “that it looked like I was out for blood!”. He then explained that he understood that he was a little over the top, and gave me some murky answers about his funding (“mostly from individuals, but we do have a large donor in the US”).
Two Years Later, Elections Canada Finishes The Investigation:
Elections Canada announced this week that they’ve finished with the investigation, and there’s no evidence of any intent to interfere with people’s voting. They also explained that out of the 40,000 complaints that were filed (most through LeadNow), 39,350 were people expressing “their profound dissatisfaction with inappropriate calls”.
So, basically, the Robocall incident was a scandal that never was.
I learned a lot from my involvement in the Robocall rallies. First, was that one really shouldn’t believe everything they hear in the media; I knew that one, but never imagined that things could be as bad as they are in Canada now. Almost all major media outlets regurgitated the number of 40,000, few even took a moment to question it.
But the most important thing I learned from the rallies is how potentially dangerous Canada’s NGO/activist alliance is. LeadNow, Avaaz, and OpenMedia are all closely connected with, and funded through, American foundations that are tied-to-the-hip with the Democrats. These are the same foundations that are funding people like Sherif Azer to conduct revolutions. It’s unacceptable that they’re anywhere near our country’s electoral policy.
American Style Dirty Politics:
When Libby Davies warned us about “American style dirty politics”, she wasn’t kidding us- only, the tricks she was referring to were coming from her own side! Just like their smaller sibling LeadNow, MoveOn.org has been conducting the same type of anti-robocall campaigns in the US. It makes sense that they’re doing this, they’ve shared board members and other partners.
It’s creepy enough watching American billionaires and foundations (some who got their money from the oil business) buying themselves hegemony over our country’s environmental movements; even many environmentalists have started seeing through that façade. But it sends shivers through my spine to watch the same foreign foundation influenced organizations messing around with our country’s elections.
It should set-off alarm bells that a manager at a Democratic Party affiliated website was in the position to offer-up “an MP or 2” for a political rally. But that’s nothing compared to the fact that organizations funded by American oligarchs have been running fraudulent campaigns centred around our system of voting. People in many countries would see that as an act of war- particularly when the campaigners are openly calling for revolution (like Ukraine and Russia?).
While this may be acceptable to some Canadians when it comes to environmental policy, I find it hard to believe that most people in this country are willing to overlook the fact foreign powers are helping to weaken our democracy. Or, perhaps I learned nothing from this experience, and I’m still horribly naïve?
One of the slogans we pondered while planning the Toronto rally was “Wake Up Canada!”- there couldn’t be a more perfect message to end this story with….