Frequently Asked Questions – About the CCE

I’ve never heard of the CCE. What do you do?

The Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE or Commissioner) is responsible for ensuring compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act (the Act) and the Referendum Act.

The Commissioner works independently of Elections Canada and the government of the day, to make sure that Canadians and political participants follow the rules set out in the Act.

The CCE receives complaints from the public and reviews them to determine if the issue falls within the Office’s mandate. If it does, the Commissioner may decide to initiate a review or an investigation to determine the facts of the case. The Commissioner can also begin a review or investigation after receiving a referral from Elections Canada, or of his own initiative.

Under the Act, the Commissioner decides when to take corrective action. These actions can include everything from informal communications to formal administrative measures or criminal charges.

Additional details are available in the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

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Who is the Commissioner of Canada Elections?

Yves Côté, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, was appointed in July 2012. The Commissioner is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions for a non-renewable term of 10 years. Only the CEO may remove the Commissioner for cause.

The Commissioner works independently of Elections Canada and the government of the day, to make sure that Canadians and political participants follow the rules set out in the Act.

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Is the CCE part of Elections Canada?

No. The Commissioner and his staff are separate from Elections Canada.

Since 2019, the CCE has been part of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (OCEO). The OCEO consists of two entities: Elections Canada, which is responsible for the administration of federal elections, and the CCE.

Although the CCE is part of the OCEO, under the law, all compliance and enforcement decisions that are made and actions that are taken by the Commissioner are made or taken independently of the Chief Electoral Officer. The only exception would be the review by the CEO of certain administrative monetary penalties issued by the Commissioner.

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What happens when I submit a complaint?

Members of the public are the eyes and ears of the CCE. We rely on them to advise us when they see or hear something that could be against the law.

Every complaint received by the Office is reviewed. If the complaint falls within our mandate, the Commissioner may decide to initiate a review or an investigation to determine the facts of the case. The CCE’s staff will acknowledge receiving a complaint or question and will generally notify the complainant about the outcome of their complaint.

At all times throughout the process, the CCE’s decisions are guided by the principles of independence, impartiality and fairness.

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How can I find out the status of my complaint?

The CCE does not provide updates on the status of files.

If you submit a complaint to our Office, you will receive an acknowledgement. We may also contact you to get additional information or to seek clarification about your complaint.

The CCE usually notifies complainants about the outcome of their complaint. This can include correspondence indicating that the file has been closed without action, or could provide general information outlining the compliance or enforcement measure that was chosen.

Because of the strict confidentiality provisions contained in the Act, no details relating to the review or investigation is shared, except in some very limited instances provided in the Act. That said, when formal compliance or enforcement measures are taken, the matter is then made public, as required by law. Formal measures include compliance agreements, undertakings, administrative monetary penalties, and charges.

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How long will it take to investigate my complaint?

It depends. Some files are resolved relatively quickly and informally, while others take more time.

The length of time necessary for a review or investigation can depend on several factors, including the complexity of the file, the level of cooperation from the people or entities involved, and the information shared with the CCE.

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Where can I find updates on investigations?

The CCE only makes information public at the end of an investigation and only if formal compliance or enforcement action is taken.

The Act contains strict confidentiality provisions that prevent the Commissioner and those working for him from sharing details related to the work being carried out by the Office, except in some very limited instances. Most of the time, that also means the CCE won’t comment on whether a review or an investigation is even underway.

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I was contacted by your office. How do I know it isn’t a scam?

Communication from CCE personnel may be done by telephone, or in writing, either by mail, email, or in some instances, by text messages.

If someone claiming to be from the CCE has reached out to you and you are unsure whether they work for our Office, you can contact us by phone at 1-855-759-6740 or by email at the following address: info@cef-cce.ca.

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I was contacted by your office and told I might be a witness. What does that mean?

If a member of our personnel contacts you for an interview as a potential witness, it is because we believe you may have relevant information about a potential contravention of the Act that could assist our investigators in their work.

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As a potential witness, do I have to participate in an interview with investigators?

Your participation in this kind of interview is voluntary, but the information you provide to our personnel may help us determine whether or not the allegation has merit. If the information you provide is deemed to be relevant, you may be asked to appear as a witness in court.

If you agree to help, you will be informed of the nature of the allegation and invited to share any useful information you may have. You may also choose to be accompanied by your legal representative.

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As a potential witness, if I agree to an interview, can I have someone present with me?

Yes. If you would feel more comfortable having someone else present during the interview, you can choose to have your legal representative, or if you are a youth or young adult, your parents or legal custodians.

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I received a notification from your office informing me that I’m being investigated. What does that mean?

If you receive a notice of investigation from us, it means that we are reviewing an allegation that you may have violated a provision of the Act.

An investigation allows the CCE to gather the necessary facts and information to determine whether or not the allegation has merit.

In the course of their work, an investigator will contact you, or try to contact you, to give you the opportunity to provide your version of events. This is an opportunity to share your side of the story and to provide information about the alleged violation. Your participation is voluntary and you will not be arrested or detained, but what you say, or the information you provide, could be used as evidence.

At the end of an investigation and in the event that the Commissioner determines an offence was committed, several factors will be considered when making his decision into the choice of compliance or enforcement tool. These factors can be found in paragraph 32 of the Compliance and Enforcement Policy of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

The co-operation of the persons or entities that are the subject of the investigation is one of the factors that are taken into consideration.

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Can I go to jail for breaking the Canada Elections Act?

Yes. Most offences under the Act can carry jail time. In a few recent cases, the courts have imposed a jail sentence due to the severity of the contravention. That said, fines are usually the most common sentence imposed by courts for offences committed under the Canada Elections Act.

If the Commissioner decides to lay charges following an investigation, the prosecution is then handled by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Following a trial, it is the courts, and not the Commissioner, that determine the sentence to be served.

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What’s the difference between an offence and a violation?

An offence is a contravention of the Act that may be subject to a criminal investigation and for which the person who committed the offence may be charged.

Unlike an offence, a violation is a contravention of the Act. However, violations are subject to an administrative investigation and do not expose the person who committed the violation to the risk of criminal prosecution in court.

For contraventions that are both offences and violations, the Commissioner may decide, depending on the circumstances of each case, to address the contravention as an offence or a violation, depending on the severity of the case.

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What’s the difference between a criminal investigation and an administrative investigation?

A criminal investigation aims to gather evidence to determine whether an offence has been committed. If the evidence gathered over the course of the investigation gives the Commissioner reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed under the Act, charges may be laid against the person who committed the offence. A criminal prosecution may result in an acquittal or in a conviction and imprisonment, payment of a fine, or both. A conviction for an offence may lead to a criminal record.

Conversely, an administrative investigation is designed to determine whether there has been a violation of the Act. Unlike a criminal investigation, an administrative investigation does not result in the laying of criminal charges. However, it may result in the use of administrative measures that aim to promote compliance, such as the signing of an undertaking or the payment of an administrative monetary penalty (AMP).

Administrative measures do not carry the possibility of penal consequences, such as imprisonment or the creation of a criminal record.

A person who contravenes the Act cannot be subject to both an administrative measure and criminal charges for the same contravention. However, in certain cases, the findings of a criminal investigation could lead the Commissioner to accept an undertaking or impose an AMP.

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What’s the difference between a compliance agreement and an undertaking? They seem like the same thing.

Although they appear similar, there are some fundamental differences between compliance agreements and undertakings.

Compliance agreements can be used for offences committed, about or likely to be committed under any section of the Canada Elections Act. Undertakings can only be used for violations.

Certain prohibited acts or omissions can be both a violation and an offence; for these, it is the Commissioner’s choice to proceed either with the contravention as a violation or as an offence. Other acts or omissions are only identified either as an offence or as a violation; for these, the Commissioner has no choice and must deal with the contravention accordingly.

Both compliance agreements and undertakings contain the terms and conditions the Commissioner considers necessary to ensure compliance with the Act. However, a compliance agreement is an alternative to the laying of criminal charges for an offence, while an undertaking is an alternative to imposing an administrative monetary penalty for a violation.

More information and examples can be found in the Compliance Agreements & Undertakings section.

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What is an informal enforcement tool?

Informal tools, such as caution and information letters, are used to provide information to the subject of an investigation about the act or omission that violated the Act. They also outline the Commissioner’s expectation that the necessary steps will be taken to avoid future contraventions of the Act. Ultimately, caution and information letters aim to promote voluntary compliance with the Act.

A caution letter may be issued in cases of minor contraventions where the Commissioner determines that it is not in the public interest to take formal enforcement action. It serves as a warning, aiming to stop or prevent contraventions of the Act.

An information letter may be sent when the Commissioner determines that there has not been a contravention of the Act, but that it would be useful to provide information to the person or entity involved in order to prevent future contraventions of the Act.

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I submitted a complaint and got a reply saying it was resolved informally. Can I know the details?

The Act contains very strict confidentiality provisions that prevent the Commissioner and his staff from sharing details about their work, including information related to files that have been resolved using informal means. The Act provides very limited exceptions to these confidentiality provisions.

The level of detail in our correspondence with you represents the extent of the information we are able to share.

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Why are some cases resolved informally? How is it decided?

Every case is different. The decision to proceed formally or informally, is made after the Commissioner has considered all the factors at paragraph 32 of the Compliance and Enforcement Policy of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. These factors are all carefully weighed and balanced against each other in order to select the measure that, in a particular situation, would best serve the public interest.

The Commissioner is always guided by the principles of independence, impartiality and fairness in deciding how the public interest would be best served in a particular case.

If the Commissioner chooses to handle a situation informally, he expects that the person or entity will abide by the rules of the Act in the future. If they do not, future situations of non-compliance are likely to be handled using stricter formal tools of enforcement.

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I don’t think the measure or punishment the Commissioner imposed was strong enough. Can I appeal the decision?

No. Complainants can not appeal compliance and enforcement decisions made by the Commissioner.

However, individuals or entities who receive a notice of violation (NOV) requiring the payment of an AMP can request a review within 30 days after having received the NOV.

The decision to lay charges – or not – can not be appealed, but sentences imposed by the courts following a prosecution, can. However, it is the Public Prosecution Service of Canada – and not the Commissioner – that is responsible for the prosecution of federal offences, including offences under the Act. This includes, but is not limited to, decisions regarding appeals or sentencing.

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Why do informal resolutions not get published?

In certain cases, the Commissioner chooses informal means to resolve a file and to ensure future compliance with the Act. This is often the case for minor or unintentional acts or omissions.

Informal tools, such as information and caution letters, aim to encourage the subject to take all necessary steps to avoid a contravention of the Act in the future. Most of the time, the persons or entities are willing to comply once they are informed of their obligations under the Act.

Only formal means of compliance or enforcement allow for the disclosure of personal information under the law. When informal means are used, the confidentiality provisions of the Act, as well as the provisions contained in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, prevent the disclosure of personal information relating to the person who contravened the Act.

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Do you publish reports at the conclusion of an investigation?

As a general rule, no. In rare cases, the Commissioner could, for example, decide to publish a report at the end of a high-profile investigation that did not result in formal compliance or enforcement measures, to maintain Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of the regime. But, formal compliance or enforcement decisions are always published on the CCE’s website. Formal tools include:

Annual reports are also published on the CCE’s website, outlining activities completed over the course of the year, issues of particular interest, statistics on complaints received by the Office and disposition of cases. However, annual reports do not include details of the CCE’s investigations.

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Where can I find information about complaints and investigations carried out by your office?

Although the CCE doesn’t share information about complaints or its ongoing investigations, you can find information on its website, including:

The CCE also shares announcements and updates on its social media accounts:

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How can I receive regular updates on the CCE’s work?

You can sign up for email alerts from the CCE when new content is posted on its website.

Following the CCE’s social media accounts is another useful way to stay up-to-date on news from the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

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