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OTTAWA (Reuters) - An investigation of alleged dirty tricks during last year's election campaign has been broadened after the number of complaints has snowballed into the tens of thousands, the federal agency that runs elections said on Friday.
The complaints to the agency, Elections Canada, concern fraudulent phone calls made during the campaign for the May 2011 federal election, which was won by the Conservatives. Opposition politicians allege the calls directed their supporters away from correct polling stations in an effort to suppress their votes.
The opposition Liberals have also complained of rude calls made under their name in an apparent attempt to alienate voters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has categorically denied any Conservative involvement in the calls.
Elections Canada said the high volume of complaints regarding "robocalls", automated calls made with a recorded message, in recent days was the result of political parties and members of Parliament having called on the public to send information to the agency.
"More than 31,000 contacts have been initiated with Elections Canada by Canadians. Elections Canada is reviewing these and will take action as appropriate," the agency said in a statement on Friday.
It emerged on February 23 that Elections Canada had opened an investigation into possible electoral fraud in Guelph, Ontario, but the agency had not confirmed the breadth of its investigations elsewhere, or even if it was investigating.
Friday's statement said the Commissioner of Canada Elections was looking at new complaints and had the authority to bring in investigators from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other agencies to help in times of high volume.
The Guelph investigation has centered on calls made through an automated call center used by the Conservatives, though Elections Canada documents said the call center itself was not under suspicion of doing anything wrong.
Opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of being behind the election phone calls. Liberal leader Bob Rae told a news conference on Friday that in past elections only a few hundred complaints have been registered.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway