Glover staffers remove ugly details from Wikipedia Elections Canada dispute cut from site by Oliver Sachgau
Jul 22, 2014
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Staff of Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover anonymously edited her Wikipedia page to remove controversial details about her run-ins with Elections Canada.
The information disappeared last week and involved a 2013 request by Elections Canada that the Saint Boniface Conservative MP be suspended because she filed inaccurate campaign spending reports. The missing sentences were quickly restored by Wikipedia editors.
Glover's office confirmed in a statement the attempt to change the Wikipedia article was made by a political staffer in her office.
"(The staff member) was made aware of inaccurate and improperly sourced information on Wikipedia, and removed it. All relevant information about the issue in question is available on the Elections Canada website," said the statement from Glover's office.
Her staff would not agree to make Glover available for an interview.
The edits appear to be part of a co-ordinated attempt to sanitize the Wikipedia entries of several government MPs. A popular Twitter account, @gccaedits, has been set up to track the changes, and spotted Glover's.
In most cases, the edits are reversed, sometimes within seconds, by some of the more than 130,000 active editors on the website. In the case of Glover's page, the change was reversed and the information restored within minutes.
The attempted edit was done by an IP address -- a unique address that identifies a computer connected to the Internet -- registered to the House of Commons.
The Wikipedia website shows the same IP address has edited numerous other Wikipedia pages, including those of sitting MPs. In some cases, sections that detail a members' previous controversies are completely deleted. In other cases, sections are added advertising an MP's accomplishments, in words that could be found in a promotional leaflet.
In Glover's case, the deleted section stated that the Speaker of the House of Commons received a request from Elections Canada in June 2013 for Glover's suspension. Every statement in the section was cited and supported, and the events it mentioned are a matter of public record. The 2013 complaint was eventually resolved without Glover being suspended.
The IP address in this case can be used by more than one person, the Wikipedia page for the address stated, as it refreshes with every reboot. The actual person doing the editing could be anyone on the Canadian parliamentary Internet system, the page stated. They could be in Ottawa, or in a federal MP's constituency office.
Changes to Wikipedia matter, because it is the only place many people go to for information, said University of Ottawa law Prof. Penny Collenette.
The changes were also not made on a forum that Glover's office exclusively owns, Collenette said, which raises questions whether the changes were justified.
"To remove that, if it was her own website, sure. Why would she draw attention to that? But this is not her own website. This is a public encyclopedia... people go to it for information," said Collenette.
With campaigning for the 2015 federal election slowly ramping up, Collenette said Wikipedia pages will become even more important, and changes to them equally powerful.
"MPs turn into candidates during an election, and (they could) decide they don't like what's there, so they'll edit it, or someone will do it for them," she said.
Though Collenette said she wasn't sure in this case whether the changes were justified, she does not agree with such edits being anonymous.
Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin disapproved of Glover's office making the changes.
"Attempting to sanitize your own Wikipedia page by removing facts that are potentially embarrassing is not only cheesy, it's revisionist and dishonest... it certainly shouldn't be done on the taxpayer's dime." Martin said by email.
The address that edited Glover's page has also edited the page for Conservative MP Colin Carrie in 2009, removing a section about a defamation charge against Carrie of which he was eventually acquitted. In March 2014, it edited the page of Conservative MP David Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent-Essex), adding in statements such as, "He is very proud of the riding and works hard every day to keep Canada a strong and prosperous nation, not only for our generation but for those generations to come."