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article imageFormer Conservative staffer off to jail for robocalls

By Ken Hanly     Nov 21, 2014 in Crime
Guelph - Michael Sona, a former member of the Federal Conservative Party staff has been sentenced to nine months in jail for his role in the 2011 Federal Election robocalls scandal.
Sona set a record of sorts by becoming the first and only person, so far, to be sentenced to jail for violations of the Canada Elections Act. The robocalls were designed to misdirect potential opposition voters so that they would not vote on the morning of the 2011 federal vote. Most robocalls are perfectly legal and can be used in political campaigns as well as public information campaigns. The Crown prosecutor had asked for a sentence of at least 18 months. Justice Gary Hearn also gave Sona twelve months on probation. Norm Boxall, Sona's lawyer, had suggested a suspended or conditional sentence but Justice Hearn termed that "entirely inappropriate".
On the morning of May 2, 2011, thousands of automated phone calls went out to some voters in and around Guelph giving incorrect information as to where they should vote. Most of the calls were to Liberal supporters. Sona was found guilty of willfully preventing or trying to prevent electors from voting. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The scheme involved fake names Pierre Poutine and Pierre Jones, prepaid credit cards that could not be traced, and disposable cellphones from which the robocalls were ordered. Pierre's Poutine is a well-known restaurant in Guelph. The identity of Pierre Poutine or Pierre Jones have never been determined. Sona's lawyer argued that Sona did not have enough technical knowledge to be behind the complicated plot. Boxall suggested that Andrew Prescott, Sona's colleague, who acted as a Crown witness and had experience ordering robocalls was a likely suspect. Prescott had testified against Sona and received immunity in return. Even Crown attorney Croft Michaelson cautioned that Prescott's testimony should be approached with caution.
The judge also said that he found Prescott's testimony to be largely "self-serving" and also inconsistent. The judge relied on testimony from other Conservative staff members who claimed that Sona openly bragged about his actions. Boxall, however, questioned the reliability of other Crown witnesses as well. Chris Crawford, a member of the Conservative ministerial staff who worked with Sona on the campaign claims to have overheard Sona talk of misdirecting voters to wrong polling locations and also sending out calls meant to annoy Liberal voters. Boxall was able to force Crawford to admit that after his testimony to Elections Canada he was given a promotion and $15,000 raise.
Judge Hearn in handing down the sentence noted that although Sona had no previous record his offence was a serious affront to the electoral process. Crown prosecutor Ruth McGuirl said that the sentence sends a message that this "type of conduct which interferes with fundamental rights of voters" will warrant time in jail. Crown Attorney Michaelson also claimed that jail time was appropriate:" (Jail time is needed) to deter this type of conduct in the future, so it doesn’t ever happen again, and more importantly, so those involved in the electoral process are aware we have rules and the rules have to be followed." Both the Crown and the defence agreed that it was unlikely that Sona acted alone. Sona's actions did not prevent a Liberal win in the riding even though the Conservatives won a majority in the election overall.
The Liberal who won the riding Frank Valeriote said: “I feel badly for Michael Sona that he’s been the pawn, who in part deployed and executed the delivery of the call, but others did, as well, and Michael’s taken the fall." Some suspect that the campaign manager Ken Morgan, who refused to cooperate in the investigation yet was never charged was also involved in the operation. Sona himself at first claimed he was innocent and was being used as a scapegoat, but later at his sentencing hearing in October he was silent.
Sona is not the only one to suffer from the incident. New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin was involved in a five million dollar defamation suit for comments he made about RackNine the service the Conservatives used for the robocalls. He settled for an undisclosed sum but is still paying it off. Martin said: “Nobody in their right mind believes Michael Sona acted alone but it looks like he and I are the only two that are suffering any lingering effects from the attempt to hijack…the 2011 election.”
More about Robocalls, Michael Sona, Canada Election 2011
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