Conservative constituency officials charged with financial violations after 2019 provincial election

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Manitoba’s election watchdog has buried information about charges against two Conservative riding officials following the 2019 provincial election.

And the lack of transparency of Manitoba’s election commissioner is troubling and inexplicable, according to experts in ethics and politics.

The Free press has learned that multiple charges were laid after a brief mention of “financial irregularities” involving two representatives of anonymous constituency associations was buried in the commissioner’s latest annual report.

The defendants are due to appear in provincial court next month.

Rajbir Grewal, 30, and Rajpal Grewal, 32, face several charges under the Election Finances Act, including obstructing an investigation and withholding information. At the time of the 2019 provincial election, they were respectively treasurer and president of the Waverley constituency association of the Progressive Conservative Party. They are presumed innocent and are scheduled to appear in court on October 6 and 7 respectively.

“It is disturbing that charges have been laid and that the officials appointed have not been transparent about the charges.”
– Arthur Schafer, Founding Director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba

Manitoba Election Commissioner Bill Bowles – who was appointed in 2011 – did not answer questions about alleged violations he alluded to in his annual report when contacted last week.

Elections Manitoba also declined to comment, saying it had nothing to do with compliance and enforcement investigations. He provided the name of the outside lawyer appointed by Bowles to prosecute the cases. When contacted, lawyer Evan Roitenberg provided the names of the accused but not the charges, which the Free press learned in the provincial court.

“Why has the commission made it so difficult for the public to find out that charges were laid? Said Arthur Schafer, founding director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

“It is disturbing that charges have been laid and that the officials appointed have not been transparent about the charges.”

Manitoba Election Commissioner has the power to launch an investigation and recommend prosecution if there is reason to believe laws may have been broken, says University of Manitoba professor emeritus of political studies , Paul Thomas.

The commissioner hires an outside investigator, often a lawyer, to conduct an investigation, give defendants the opportunity to refute any negative information brought against them and prepare a report, Thomas said.

“Rule integrity and rule enforcement is a promise to the citizens of Manitoba that no individual, party or group will be allowed to take unfair advantage of the rules” that there is a level playing field, everyone is held accountable and those who violate them will be held accountable. ”
-Arthur Schafer

“You don’t want to prematurely reveal that someone is accused of doing something wrong without having fully investigated,” he said.

“Once it goes to court, I would have thought you should be ready to explain and defend what you did. If you get to the point where you’ve charged people, that’s serious. We should know the names of these people. I think the information is fair to both parties. ”

Two counts

Rajpal Grewal, 32, faces three charges under the Election Finances Act and is scheduled to appear in provincial court on October 7. for the purposes of an investigation.

Rajpal Grewal, 32, faces three charges under the Election Finances Act and is scheduled to appear in provincial court on October 7. for the purposes of an investigation.

The offenses were reportedly committed between September 25, 2020 and December 1, 2020. Rajpal Grewal served as president of the Waverley Riding Association of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba from June 2017 to November 2019, during which time he assisted Economic Development and Employment Minister Jon Reyes is elected, according to Grewal’s LinkedIn profile. Reyes’ press secretary has been referred to the PC caucus for comment.

Rajbir Grewal, 30 – the former treasurer of the Waverly Riding Association, faces eight charges and has a hearing date of October 6. The charges include: failure to state material facts when providing information in a report or file under the Election Finances Act; knowingly giving false information in a file or report filed with the Chief Electoral Officer; failing to comply with the duties required of a financial agent by failing to keep proper records of all income, including contributions, transfers and loans; failing to comply with the duties of a chief financial officer by failing to file statements and other information about the constituency association with the Chief Electoral Officer, as required by the Chief Electoral Officer; and failing to ensure that every disbursement, including transfers made on behalf of the constituency association, was supported by an invoice or voucher. The offenses were allegedly committed between June 20, 2017 and October 29, 2019.

Between September 25, 2020 and December 1, 2020, Rajbir Grewal is charged with obstructing a person conducting an investigation under the Election Finances Act, withholding information or documents relevant to an investigation under the Election Finances Act. the law and failure to provide the Commissioner of Elections or his representative with the information sought for the purposes of an investigation.

Asked about the charges on Monday, Manitoba PC Party spokesman Keith Stewart said in an email to Free press that the party was alerted by the Waverley PC Association in the fall of 2019 about financial irregularities in the constituency’s banking records. The financial situation as reported by the outgoing president and the treasurer was not in accordance with the bank statements issued by the constituency bank. As a result, incorrect information was provided to Elections Manitoba for the years 2017 and 2018, the party said. As soon as he discovered the irregularity, he alerted Elections Manitoba, Stewart said. Neither the party nor any member of the constituency were held responsible, he said, declining to comment further on the charges against Rajpal and Rajbir Grewal.

The charges against Rajpal and Rajbir Grewal have not been proven in court.

Election finance laws are fundamental to a democratic society and must be taken seriously and handled transparently, Schafer said.

“Rule integrity and rule enforcement is a promise to the citizens of Manitoba that no individual, party or group will be allowed to take unfair advantage of the rules – that there is a level playing field, everything the world is held accountable and those who violate them will be held accountable, ”said the ethicist.

“If someone cheats on election financing, they get an unfair advantage. In a democratic society which is considered a very serious crime. It’s not as trivial a matter as a parking ticket. are not enforced and the culprits are not condemned, blamed, humiliated and held accountable, the public becomes cynical.

Schafer said the erosion of public confidence in democracy is evident just across the border, where many Republicans claim the losses suffered by the party are due to “rigged elections.”

“I think American democracy is under threat right now,” he said, adding that a constituency association accused of breaking election finance laws is not necessarily a threat, but whenever election officials do not show up, it becomes a concern. .

“The process by which the rules are enforced should be viewed as scrupulously honest and transparent, and those involved should be held accountable,” Schafer said.

“Any suspicion of secrecy, cover-up and cover-up – or suspicion of cover-up – fuels cynicism and mistrust. The Election Commissioner has a strict obligation to apply and enforce the rules with integrity.”

The most severe penalty for a person charged under the law is a fine of $ 5,000.

– With files from Dean Pritchard

[email protected]

Carol Sanders

Carol sanders
Legislative journalist

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people who call Manitoba home, Carol stepped into the Legislative Office in early 2020.

Read the full biography


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