Update: Richmond RCMP serious crimes unit investigating alleged vote-buying on Chinese app

WeChat post was forged, claims mayoral candidate Hong Guo

The Richmond RCMP has stepped in to investigate accusations that two posts on Chinese social media WeChat about this year’s municipal elections are crossing the line into vote buying.

According to a screenshot, the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society asked its members to vote for certain candidates in the coming elections and offered a $20 “transportation subsidy” within a private 347-member WeChat group, last Saturday.

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“To encourage people to take part in the municipal elections, the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society will give a transportation subsidy of $20 for those who vote this year,” said the post.

“Please actively participate in voting and supporting Chinese Canadians to take part in politics.”

The post went on to ask people to vote for Richmond mayoral candidate Hong Guo, incumbent councillor Chak Au, council candidate Peter Liu and Melissa Zhang, and five other candidates in Vancouver and Burnaby.

However, the accusations have now been passed to Richmond RCMP, which released a statement just before noon Friday, confirming it was now officially investigating "concerns by the Richmond Chief Electoral Officer about possible voter manipulation."

“The Richmond RCMP Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) launched an investigation after being contacted late yesterday afternoon,” said Cpl. Dennis Hwang.

“We are asking that if you've been approached with possible enticements pertaining to any portion of the voting process, please report it to us directly."

Hwang said an investigation report will come out before the Oct. 20 election.

"It is high on our priority list. The investigation has to be done thoroughly and quickly. People need to have confidence in our election system," said Hwang.

If anyone has information pertaining to this matter, contact Cpl. W. Howard, of the Richmond RCMP Serious Crimes Unit, at 604-278-1212 or by email at Richmond_Tips@rcmp-grc.gc.ca.

The Richmond News contacted the Society on Thursday and a volunteer who refused to give her name confirmed that the money was offered by the organization on Saturday.

“It (the offer) doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.

“It was the original plan, but then we heard that this is illegal, so we corrected the post soon after. We have sent out multiple clarifications in the group from Saturday to today telling people the offer was cancelled. You can check it out.”

Meanwhile, questions were also asked about a WeChat post that appears to come from mayoral candidate Hong Guo, asking people to treat voters to breakfast on Election Day, “after getting their promises.”

However, Guo said the post was forged.

"That's just my picture. The message is not from me. I don't even write in traditional characters; I write in simplified Chinese. Someone is trying to damage my name. I don't know who."

She added that the election campaign has turned "brutal."

The post, which appeared last week, went out to a WeChat group with 448 people. 

The City of Richmond said on Thursday it is “aware of these posts and is currently investigating the matter.”

“We will not be making any further comment at this time while our investigation is underway,” said Ted Townsend, spokesperson for the city.

Townsend later told the News on Friday that this matter has been referred to the RCMP, who will be investigating further.

According to the Local Government Act, “a person must not pay, give, lend or procure inducement…to induce a person to vote or refrain from voting,” which would be considered vote buying.

It also noted that a person must not accept inducement to vote or inducement to refrain from voting.

Those who contravene vote buying laws are liable to a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to two years, or disqualification from holding office for up to seven years.

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© 2018 Richmond News

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