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B.C. Liberal audit of new members was extensive, lawyer tells court

Last-minute petition asks judge to delay the scheduled release of leadership contest results
Former B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he was stepping down during a news conference in Burnaby on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Lawyers for the B.C. Liberal party are in court arguing against a last-minute petition that asked a judge to delay the scheduled release on Saturday of the results from its leadership contest for 15 days.

Vikram Bajwa, a longtime Liberal party member, asked the B.C. Supreme Court for the delay and for an order that would force the party to provide details of its audit of thousands of new members signed up during the leadership campaign.

The petition also asked that the party be ordered to reveal its conclusions on whether any co-ordinated voter fraud took place in the leadership race.

Bajwa’s lawyer, Greg Allen, told the court by phone that the party has an obligation to his client to ensure that no invalid members are being allowed to cast a ballot, which could effectively disenfranchise members who are in good standing.

Andrew Nathanson, a lawyer for the party, said Bajwa hadn’t provided substantial evidence to support his concerns of voter irregularities.

Justice Heather MacNaughton said she was aiming to provide a decision Friday, with reasons to follow.

Voting for a new leader began Thursday.

Allen told the court five of the seven leadership campaign teams had also outlined concerns about memberships, the audit process and the risk of reputational damage to the party in a letter sent last month to the leadership election organizing committee.

But Nathanson said the party’s evidence showed reasonable steps were taken to ensure voter eligibility.

“The evidence is that an extensive audit was conducted by the party, with input from the campaigns, and it has resulted in the exclusion of some members found to be ineligible,” he said, adding the party’s rules give the leadership election organizing committee discretion over whether to release details of the audit.

Also Friday, the party said it was taking “legal steps” to identify who is behind text messages providing people with false registration codes to vote in the leadership race.

The party has received reports of the messages, but they did not originate from the party, which will not send a text message with a code unless it is requested through the Liberals’ secure site, spokesman David Wasyluk said in a statement.

Wasyluk declined an interview request and the statement from the party did not say how many complaints about the text messages were received.

However, it said members are not able to vote using false verification codes and the returning officer is investigating.

“The party takes any allegations of voter suppression and voter manipulation seriously,” Wasyluk said.

The party gained more than 20,000 members during the leadership process for a total of about 43,000, who may vote online or by phone for a new leader to replace Andrew Wilkinson after his resignation following the party’s 2020 election defeat.

The seven leadership candidates are legislature members Michael Lee, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield; business leaders Gavin Dew, Val Litwin and Stan Sipos; and Kevin Falcon, a former B.C. cabinet minister.

—Brenna Owen and Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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