Mock Campaign Website for Mayoral Candidate Sparks Allegations of Libel

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

With the municipal election fast approaching (voting day is November 13th), candidates are doing whatever they can to promote themselves and keep their public image clean. However, Kate Quarrie, who is running for re-election as Mayor, is in for some hard times. It was recently reportd in the Guelph Mercury that a man named Alan Pickersgill purchased the domain name www.katequarrie.ca and made a spoof site out of it. Quarrie’s real website is www.kategetsitdone.ca, which is a perfectly normal election campaign website, but her campaign team never thought to purchase her actual name (.ca).

When I heard of this it immediately reminded me of the US-based activist group called The Yes Men. If you have not heard of the group, please rent the film by the same title – you will most certainly enjoy it. The Yes Men do what they call “identity correction” whereby they pick a person or group – mostly the WTO – and pretend to be them, but substitute the organization’s PR for the truth. Their rip off of the WTO website is www.gatt.org. If you compare this website to www.wto.org you will see what I mean.

But the website www.katequarrie.ca is run by only one person, and is specific to the upcoming municipal election. The site home page says the site “is not owned, operated or maintained by any political or civic organization. It is owned, operated and maintained by me, Alan Pickersgill.”

I contacted Mr. Pickersgill about the site and he was pleased to answer my questions. When asked what prompted him to make the site, he replied: “I thought the site was badly needed after I saw her campaign web site and noticed it was full of fatuous rhetoric, wild claims and outright lies. I knew right away that it had to be exposed and refuted.” He said he noticed that the domain was available so he purchased it, and “the rest is history”.

Although the site is clearly designed to refute the claims of the Quarrie campaign, I asked Pickersgill what exactly he hoped to accomplish with this site. He did not beat around the bush and declared that it was his hope to “defeat Kate Quarrie and her gang of eight.” He said they “are so deeply in the pockets of the land developers that they have done enormous damage to the city and its institutions. I think it is an absolute disgrace that they would spend so much energy and resources helping Wal-Mart come to town while completely neglecting the need for a new and expanded main library building downtown.”

Knowing little about Kate herself and what exactly goes on at city council, I asked Pickersgill where he got the information contained on the site. He said that all of it is “common public knowledge” and that he was glad for the foresight some people had three year ago when they archived much of Quarries previous campaign material, including web pages and brochures. He used this material to compare what she promised to what she actually did. “For example, she made a lot of public statements about the need for transparency in decision making," says Pickersgill. "Once elected, she took everything behind closed doors where she could make deals with her favourite land developers.”

I found this quite alarming, so for the purposes of this article I wanted to get a response from either Kate Quarrie herself, or someone from her campaign team. First I emailed, then I called. I was then given the run around and told to call two more phone numbers. Eventually I was promised that someone would get back to me the following day. Two and half days later I called all three phone numbers again and emailed once more. Finally I received a response, but no direct answers to any of my questions. The response came from Jane Armstrong, the Co. Chair of the Campaign to Re-Elect Mayor Kate Quarrie, and simply read, “We are aware of the site, of the breach of copyright laws and of the libelous statements contained therein.” I again asked if they would answer some of my questions, and my request was refused.

I decided to forwarded this reply off to Alan Pickersgill for further comment and ask if he had been contacted by anyone from Quarrie’s campaign team about the website. He said that nobody has contacted him yet, but “I suspected they knew about it because they made a small change after I pointed out one of their false claims. Their web site said she had approved an urban forestry plan. I said this was nonsense. They changed their city_wide.html page to read 'Approved the Initiation of an Urban Forestry Plan.' But they have not changed it on their home page."

This election campaign promises to be reminiscent in many ways of the January 2006 federal election campaign. Bre Walt, the Local Affairs Commissioner at the CSA, confirmed that Kate Quarrie has refused to participate in some public debates and forums between Mayoral candidates. In January, Liberal Party candidate Brenda Chamberlain also refused to attend all but one of the 14 public all candidates debates unless they were televised or live on local radio. Despite her clear disregard for constituents, she ended up winning. While I prefer to keep private the candidate I will vote for, I can certainly say that Quarrie is not even a consideration.

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