An Elections Canada investigator alleges in newly released court records that Michael Sona told several acquaintances about planning and executing misleading phone calls that sent voters in 2011 to the wrong polling station. Sona has denied involvement. CBC
Michael Sona "boasted" to several Conservative staffers about misleading phone calls that sent voters to the wrong polling station in 2011, an Elections Canada investigator alleges in newly released court records.
In the affidavit, Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews alleges several current or former Conservative staffers came forward in March 2012 to say that Sona bragged to them about "a scheme to trick voters" with a fraudulent automated robocall that directed more than 7,000 people in Guelph, Ont., to the wrong polling station.
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The information is contained in a document known as an “information to obtain a production order,” a sworn affidavit filed in an Ottawa court by Mathews. He filed the document to ask a judge to issue a production order as part of his investigation into misleading robocalls made during the 2011 federal election.
The affidavit was subject to a publication ban, which was already partially lifted in September. A judge approved the release of more information today. CBC News and other media outlets are fighting the remaining ban, which covers the names of the witnesses. An Ottawa judge will rule on that Friday morning.
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The misleading automated calls went out to voters listed by the Conservative Party as non-supporters on the day of the federal election. The call claimed to be from Elections Canada and wrongly announced to voters that their polling station had moved. It's illegal to try to interfere with someone's right to vote.
Party lawyer went with witnesses
"Michael Sona, in the period shortly after Election Day, advised several of his acquaintances of participation in the false calls made to Guelph electors," Mathews wrote.
Mathews alleges the witnesses, all accompanied by Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, told him that Sona said he had been involved in the misleading robocalls.
None of the details in the affidavit have been proven in court.
One witness allegedly said Sona "gleefully boasted" about the chaos he'd caused at the Liberal candidate's headquarters.
One of the witnesses, however, Mathews described as “reluctant” and forgetful. The witness is quoted in the affidavit as saying "but in no way did [Sona] say that he had any systematic form of voter suppression employed."
Mathews describes the situations where Sona allegedly bragged about arranging the misleading calls, in one case in a conversation in a House of Commons office and in another case at a restaurant. All the conversations are alleged to have happened between one week and a few months after the election.
"[Sona] went on to talk about how he had been involved in these robocalls," a witness told Mathews on March 21, 2012, according to the affidavit.
Sona, 25, who now lives in Ottawa, is the only person charged in the case. He worked for Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke in the lead-up to the May 2, 2011, election, and went on to work for Conservative MP Eve Adams. Sona is charged under the Criminal Code with wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot.
Sona has repeatedly denied having anything to do with the calls and says he didn't have access to the phone list necessary to arrange for the calls. He says the Conservative Party is using him as a scapegoat in the case.
Sona was in the courtroom Wednesday as a lawyer representing the media outlets cross-examined Mathews about the publication ban.
Sona talked about a "burn phone" (pay-as-you-go phones are sometimes referred to as burner phones) and that he’d “bought a Visa card with cash so that it could not be traced,” Mathews summarized about a witness’s statement.
Mathews quotes from a statement alleging that Sona had a friend in the Liberal Party that “owed him a favour” and that Sona “approached that individual, requesting the names and phone numbers of Liberal voters in hopes to use them on a robo-type call to do with Elections Canada.”
Mathews’ affidavit also quotes from a statement that there was "maybe one other person involved, but it didn't, from our impression, made [sic] it sound like it was a widespread operation. It was more of an individual endeavour."
Mathews also quotes from witness descriptions of the mall in Guelph to where the voters were misdirected as "some type of an old mall ... it wouldn't be a typical place for an election station," and that it was “rundown.”
The Old Quebec Street Mall in Guelph, however, is a bright and airy shopping centre that did host a polling station in the 2011 federal election.
Got list from Liberals, Conservatives allege
According to the affidavit, Mathews did the interviews in March and April, 2012.
One of the allegations contained in the witness statements, Mathews wrote in the affidavit, is that Sona got the list of non-Conservative supporters, "by impersonating someone from the Liberal campaign, using an alias."
The witness statements included one that said the burner phone had been registered to 1 Separatist St., and that Sona spoke of getting a prepaid credit card from a gas station. Mathews has traced the prepaid credit cards used to pay for the misleading robocall to two Shoppers Drug Mart stores.
Mathews quotes from the statements that Sona "readily confessed to using telephone calls to misdirect Liberal voters."
"Sona readily responded [to a question about the matter] that the candidate [Marty Burke] had not been aware of this," Mathews summarized in the affidavit.
Some of the statements contradicted each other, however. A witness told Mathews that Sona allegedly got the numbers from Conservative Party "base data," Mathews wrote in the affidavit.
Mathews refers in the affidavit to the possibility two people could have been involved in setting up the misleading calls.
"I have noted that I suspected that others were involved as well as Sona, but in each case I have been clear that I was asking Sona to provide a statement to me under warning," Mathews said in the affidavit, referring to a cautioned statement. A cautioned statement means a person answering questions is aware his statement can be used against him in court.
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