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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UPDATED: VIVA Victoria fires communications manager over allegations of sending misleading ‘Island Health’ email

The account has been deleted, but it may be linked to VIVA’s media representative, who has since been let go

Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UPDATED: VIVA Victoria fires communications manager over allegations of sending misleading ‘Island Health’ email

The account has been deleted, but it may be linked to VIVA’s media representative, who has since been let go

Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UPDATED: VIVA Victoria fires communications manager over allegations of sending misleading ‘Island Health’ email

The account has been deleted, but it may be linked to VIVA’s media representative, who has since been let go

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UPDATED: VIVA Victoria fires communications manager over allegations of sending misleading ‘Island Health’ email
Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

This developing story was updated at 5pm on Oct. 3.

Victoria resident Caren Morris woke up in the middle of the night on Oct. 3 and rolled over to check her phone out of habit. She says an email—which at first glance appeared to be from Island Health—caught her eye. 

The email addresses “Victoria and area daycares” and contains a list of recommended candidates who “share our values.” 

The entire VIVA Victoria slate is listed, as well as several candidates without any formal ties to VIVA, including mayoral candidate Stephen Andrew, Victoria city council candidate Jordan Quitzau, and school board trustee candidate Judith Zulu. 

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Morris is a self-employed bookkeeper who regularly works with preschools, the Ministry of Children and Families, and Island Health in her work. She says she routinely gets emails from government ministries related to childcare, but this one seemed unusual.

“I noticed that it basically endorsed the entire [VIVA Victoria] slate,” she says. “I thought that was very strange.”

That’s when Morris realized the email originated from “[email protected]” and not an official government email address.

“I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't,” she recalls. “I just imagined how many people [were] getting this email.”

Island Health confirmed with Capital Daily that the email is not from them. “Island Health does not endorse candidates,” communications representative Andrew Leyne said over email.

VIVA Victoria’s media relations representative Alyson Culbert—owner and director of Sundance Playschool and Victoria’s People’s Party of Canada candidate in 2019—declined to comment, directing Capital Daily to a statement from VIVA’s Twitter account denying its involvement.

“We want to be clear — we had no prior knowledge, did not send & disavow this communication,” VIVA tweeted.

However, the recovery phone number for the [email protected] email account is the same as Culbert’s phone number, which has been used for official communications on behalf of VIVA Victoria and is also referenced in social media posts made by Sundance Playschool. Capital Daily entered Culbert’s phone number into the account recovery page, and a text message with a recovery code was sent to that number.

A recovery number being the same as an individual’s phone number is not in itself proof that the email address belongs to that individual: it is possible to use a phone number that doesn’t belong to the person who created the account. However, Culbert has not previously been publicly identified for her affiliation with VIVA, adding to the coincidence of her number being attached to the email address.

When asked over text about her phone number’s involvement with the email account, Culbert did not respond. The email account was deleted at some point during the morning.

On Monday afternoon, VIVA Victoria released a statement saying it had “parted ways” with Culbert, while continuing to deny any involvement in or knowledge of the email. 

“[M]ore information has been published concerning the alleged origin of this email and an individual connected with our Elector Organization has been accused of sending it,” the release said. “We have endeavoured to conduct a principled campaign and condemn any efforts to misinform the public.”

Capital Daily has reached out to Culbert for comment on her dismissal. She was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon. She has previously claimed to be intimately involved in the slate's organization, speaking with candidates on a daily basis.

The list of contacts for the Victoria-area daycare providers who received the bogus email is also not a list that’s publicly available, according to Morris.

Victoria City council candidates for VIVA Victoria Jeremy Maddock and Muller Kalala told Capital Daily they were not aware of the email endorsement. “That’s news to me,” Maddock said. ”I wouldn't be inclined to think that a Gmail address is an Island Health address in the first place.”

“I’m a bit dumbfounded,” Kalala said.

Elections BC says it has received a complaint about emails sent from the account, but said it has yet to commence an investigation. “Not all complaints result in an investigation,” Elections BC told Capital Daily.

The non-partisan office said that under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA), there are no provisions around attempts to impersonate an individual or organization in an email.

“Direct email is not regulated under LECFA’s election advertising rules,” Elections BC said. “Unless it is done on a commercial basis. Other regulations or laws outside of Elections BC’s mandate may apply to cases of alleged impersonation.”

But Morris says she’s concerned well-meaning childcare providers will take the fraudulent email seriously, and hopes government officials react quickly.

“Regardless of where it officially came from, I would like to see Island Health and the Ministry of Children and Families send an email out to every contact that they have … to basically officially declare that they do not endorse any candidates,” she says.

She adds it’s disappointing to see a particular slate of candidates promoted through unethical means

“Most of the other candidates, if not all of the other candidates, are acting fairly and [campaigning] legitimately,” she says.

Candidates distance themselves from VIVA

Early Monday morning, Victoria city council candidate Matt Dell tweeted out his disapproval of the email, saying his wife, an Island Health employee, and her colleagues received the fake email Monday morning.

“It’s just so disrespectful to health care workers,” Dell told Capital Daily. 

Now, he and a group of candidates have begun distancing themselves from any potential links to the VIVA Victoria slate, citing their concerns over its links to the PPC.

A press release representing Dell as well as candidates Jeremy Caradonna, Susan Kim, Krista Loughton, and Dave Thompson cautioned against events with potential links to VIVA Victoria, a slate they call a “PPC Puppet Party.”

The group said they will not be participating in an all-candidates event called “Candidates for Change,” organized by WeUnify—a group that council candidate and VIVA member Jeremy Maddock has worked with before. The event is scheduled for Tuesday evening at Oaklands chapel. 

WeUnify regularly hosts events with speakers such as PPC leader Maxime Bernier and anti-vaccine figure and prominent Freedom Convoy speakers such as former Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Brian Peckford. WeUnify has hosted speaking events at Oaklands chapel before and intends to host Bernier and Peckford this weekend. Oaklands chapel has hosted controversial speakers such as Tanya Gaw—a Christian right-wing activist and the founder of Action4Canada.

“I just don't want to give candidates for change, WeUnify, the People's Party of Canada, or the anti-vaccine movement any more of a voice,” Dell said.

“I don't really want to be lending my credibility as a candidate or resident to events they're organizing, so I'm not supporting their event and I don't want my people to go there. And I encourage other candidates also to boycott the event.”

Fellow candidate Khadoni Pitt Chambers, who was not included in the press release from Dell and the other four candidates, has also since said they would not participate.

Quitzau, who was the CEO of the federal PPC’s Southern Vancouver Island association and was endorsed in the fake email, told Capital Daily he rejects the endorsement but says he hasn’t decided if he will attend the “Candidates for Change” event.

“You want to be open to all the different political organizations here within the city that want to host debates and forums and everything like that,” Quitzau says. “But I'm not affiliated with this email, not affiliated with VIVA, and I’ve completely moved on from the PPC.”

Mayoral candidate Stephen Andrew also rejected the phony endorsement.

“This was a feeble and poorly executed attempt to misinform voters,” he said in a statement. “It’s as simple as that. I absolutely reject the endorsement from this anonymous individual or group of individuals.”

Capital Daily has reached out to John Randal Phipps, VIVA’s authorized principal organizer, but has not received a comment in time for publication.

[email protected]

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