Québec City, May 13, 1996 --- The Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, Mr. Pierre-F. Côté, Q.C., is unveiling the findings of his inquiry on the "Unity Rally" of October 27, 1995, in a report made public today. In the report, the Chief Electoral Officer states, in particular, how his inquiry was conducted and the conclusions he has drawn.
Following the inquiry, two observations came to light. The first observation is that certain parties from outside Québec contravened the Referendum Act by paying regulated expenses which infringed upon current Québec legislation. Thus, nine offenders from Québec and at least nine others from outside Québec will be prosecuted. The second observation is that, according to testimony received by its officers, and according to the report on regulated expenses, the Committee of Quebecers for the NO was not directly involved in the expenses made by third parties for this rally.
A REMINDER OF THE FACTS
On October 27, 1995, at the Place du Canada in Montréal, a rally was held in favour of the No option which attracted thousands of sympathizers. The event was organized by the Committee of Quebecers for the NO. A large number of people who took part came from outside Québec. Their transportation costs were apparently assumed by other people also residing outside Québec.
The media were quick to report on the organization of the rally. Thereafter, complaints were filed with the Chief Electoral Officer.
The complaints concerned, in particular, the reduced fares charged by certain carriers and the free transportation provided for a large number of demonstrators. Complaints were specifically aimed at the Committee of Quebecers for the NO, the land, air and rail transportation companies, as well as individuals who were responsible for demonstrators arriving from outside the province of Québec.
SCOPE OF THE INQUIRY
In Québec, Ontario and New Brunswick, the inquiry concerned approximately twenty individuals and forty companies and institutions.
Twenty or so corporations, institutions and companies were involved in the inquiry carried out by the Chief Electoral Officer, as well as several individuals in relation to the Committee of Quebecers for the NO.
At the same time, the Chief Electoral Officer performed a detailed verification of the report of regulated expenses of the Committee of Quebecers for the NO. It would appear that the expenses incurred for the event and paid for according to law totalled a little more than $35,000, and concerned the physical organization of the rally’s location.
After having obtained legal counsel to the effect that, on the one hand, he could conduct an inquiry outside Québec without however being able to compel witnesses to cooperate and, on the other hand, that he could institute proceedings for acts committed in full or in part within Québec, the Chief Electoral Officer instructed his investigators to meet with certain persons outside Québec.
Accordingly, approximately twenty companies and a dozen individuals from outside the province were interviewed for the inquiry, mainly in Ontario and New Brunswick.
The Chief Electoral Officer deplored the fact that little cooperation was offered by certain companies, and that certain individuals in Ontario refused outright to cooperate, including some who hold public positions.
FINDINGS OF THE INQUIRY
The Chief Electoral Officer’s inquiry led to the observations that nine institutions and companies apparently provided buses for their employees to travel to the Place du Canada. Noteworthy is the fact that these expenses, which were aimed to promote one option over another, could only be made by an official agent. Furthermore, a number of companies apparently let their employees leave work early in the afternoon.
The inquiry outside Québec established the fact that the bus companies were apparently solicited by educational institutions, federal liberal members of parliament, federal institutions and by third parties.
Most carriers were paid by a handful of financial backers, and a few others were apparently solicited and agreed to provide their buses free of charge.
As for airline and train companies who apparently offered at times substantial reductions to enable demonstrators to travel to Montréal, it was not ascertained whether they acted on their own initiative or if they were solicited. The Canadian International and First Air airlines which we were investigating ignored our requests, whereas Air Canada claims to have offered such reductions only to match the competition levelled by Canadian.
Apparently, the government of Nova Scotia also became financially involved which was said to charter an airplane in order to carry demonstrators to Montréal on October 27, 1995. In New Brunswick, dozens of buses were apparently rented by a representative of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick, a representative who is employed by Premier Frank McKenna’s office.
PARTICIPATION OF THE COMMITTEE OF QUEBECERS FOR THE NO
The inquiry did not permit the Chief Electoral Officer to ascertain whether there had been cooperation between the Committee of Quebecers for the NO and the arrival of demonstrators from outside Québec. In addition, according to testimony gathered from its officers and according to the report on regulated expenses, no amount was spent by the Committee of Quebecers for the NO to help in the transportation of rally participators.
"The Chief Electoral Officer therefore arrived at the conclusion that apparently no offences were committed by the Committee of Quebecers for the NO with regard to regulated expenses in the framework of the "Unity Rally". While staying within the letter of the law, did the people in charge of the Committee of Quebecers for the NO do damage to the spirit of the law? The Chief Electoral Officer doubts that the organizers of the rally could have legitimately believed that participants from other provinces would totally pay for their travel expenses from their own property."
A REMINDER TO INTERESTED PARTIES FROM OTHER PROVINCES
"The Chief Electoral Officer wishes to remind interested parties from other provinces that whenever an election or a referendum takes place in Québec, the laws of this province are in force, hence applicable. This is not meant to question any individual’s right to self expression and public assembly, but rather a reminder that in a democracy the rule of law must be respected. Furthermore, the electors of Québec who do not intervene in the affairs of other provinces when holding their election or referendum, are entitled to expect that the laws of their own province will be respected by all interested parties."
"Considering the facts revealed by the inquiry, the Chief Electoral Officer can only conclude that, in a sense, the "Unity Rally" undermined democracy as a whole in Québec during this referendum, by disrupting the balance in expenses between the two committees required under the referendum legislation.
It should be pointed out that the rally per se was perfectly legal. The Chief Electoral Officer is obviously not calling freedom of expression or the right to public assembly into question. It was the intervention of third parties who incurred unauthorized expenses, by paying for the transportation of thousands of rally participants in particular, that was in contravention of the Referendum Act.
This was not the first time that the Chief Electoral Officer had to ask all intervening parties to abide by the letter and spirit of the law. On a regular basis, he reminds the governments, which might be tempted to hide behind the immunity of the Crown. Each and every one is responsible for the implementation of the law and the democratic principles it espouses. Clearly, within the context of a referendum, national committees should take reasonable steps to prevent third parties from illegally incurring regulated expenses when they are aware of this."