The Edmonton Sun
Wednesday, June 4, 1997

Internet firm breaks poll law

by Bernard Pilon

An Edmonton-based Internet provider has thumbed its cyber nose at Elections Canada -- and hopes Ottawa tries to strike back.

Over the weekend, computer whizzes with Mariner Systems Services Inc. purposely ignored a 1993 amendment to the Canada Elections Act outlawing publication of poll results in the last 72 hours of a federal campaign.

Mariner president Terry O'Neill told The Sun yesterday he invites Ottawa to haul him into court for not blocking out polling data and defying the law.

"We didn't back down, even though all polling information, past and present and future, is banned", O'Neill said.

"Our expectation is it will be pursued."

Mariner was one of only two Canadian Internet companies plotting to ignore Sect. 322.1 of the Elections Act which forbids anyone to "broadcast, publish, or disseminate" the results of any public opinion poll, even the popular "hamburger polls" restaurants often do, in the last three days of an election campaign.

A computer check yesterday of the other Internet provider -- Toronto-based Online Direct -- found its polling data was unavailable. It isn't known if Online Direct was having technical troubles or decided to cave in to the new law after media reports publicized its intent. Calls to its head office weren't returned.

Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said a complaint would have to be filed before his agency can investigate.

"But at the end of the day, if we establish there has been a breach of the Elections Act, we'll prosecute", Enright said. "The penalties can be a combination of fines and/or a prison term."

O'Neill, for one, is spoiling for a scrap.

"I don't think it's a bad thing if they do", he said of charges. "We're hoping they don't simply ignore it because we want this dealt with."

Copyright © 1997 by The Edmonton Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.