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Complaint suggests website seeking to sway local trustee race

The complaint alleges the website contravenes third-party advertising rules
20210607 Ballot Box pexels

Is something fishy afoot in the race for a seat on the Waterloo Region District School Board?

That's the allegation being made as part of a complaint to the province in relation to a website claiming as its goal, 'increasing public engagement through informed voting in Waterloo Region.'

"Quite clearly, with the way [the website] was framed, [it's] trying to present a particular slate of school board candidates as their preferred list of candidates," said Mike Boos, a local parent and voter who says he has since filed a complaint with the province.

Those candidates are presented near the top of the page on a green background, the candidate names and websites in bold and three font sizes larger than the rest. There are also almost exactly the same number of so-called 'Group 1' candidates as there are trustee seats in each ward.

"Doesn't take a lot of awareness to realize what's going on here," said Boos.

That alone though isn't the crux of Boos' complaint, it's the anonymity.

Nowhere on the website does it list who is behind it, nor does it list any kind of contact information. In fact, even a search using online tools suggests that information has been 'redacted for privacy'.

The argument being made then is, because someone would have had to pay for the domain, the website should have to conform to third-party advertising rules, including requirements for registration and identification.

According to the province's 2022 Third Party Advertisers' Guide, this would require specific information to be listed, including: 

  • The legal name of the registered third party advertiser
  • The municipality where the third party advertiser is registered
  • A telephone number, mailing address, or email address where the third party advertiser can be contacted

"To me, it's very important we have transparency in who is spending money to influence these elections," said Boos. "That's why we have these laws."

"To make sure our elections are free and fair, and people can spend money within limits but that has to be done in a transparent and open fashion -- and that doesn't appear to be the case here."

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