Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Curious Case of Michael Sona

These few lines at Radio Canada and Adam Donaldson's Guelph Politico Blog are the only mentions I have found anywhere that Michael Sona, convicted of aiding and abetting unknown perp(s) in an unsolved crime of unknown proportions, lost his sentence appeal on May 18 and headed back to jail to serve out his nine month sentence.

Sona, with nothing to deal and no electronic or material evidence of his guilt produced at his trial, was such a likely fall guy.  

A couple of weeks before the 2011 election, CPC HQ had sent him out to halt voting at a special election poll at Guelph U that CPC HQ disputed the legality of and his name hit the media bigtime.

Elections Canada's investigation into the robo/live calls misdirecting voters across two thirds of the ridings in the 2011 federal election appeared dead in the water in 2012, but public interest was rekindled when reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor exposed "Pierre Poutine" as the perp and the robocall company RackNine as the source of the calls into Guelph. 

Con Party robocaller Matt Meier of RackNine - you might remember him from the dubious Con Party 2013 Saskatchewan election boundaries robocalls debacle - traced the missing Poutine evidence on the RackNine hard drives and fired it off to EC investigator Al Mathews, along with a heads up to CPC HQ. Months earlier he'd sent another heads up to Andrew Prescott, Sona's Guelph campaign co-worker.

Then out of the blue on Feb 23 2012, Brian Lilley announced on Sun News that 
1) the Cons had identified Sona as a suspect, 
2) Con Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton was on the case, and 
3) Jenni Byrne had given Sun News a statement denying CPC HQ involvement. 

A shocked Sona called everyone he knew at CPC HQ to find out what was going on. According to Sona, CPC lawyer Arthur Hamilton called him back and told him not to worry about anonymous sources. 

Hamilton subsequently delivered a sixpack of Con staffers to Al Mathews and sat in on their interviews on the CPC's behalf as they told their stories of Sona asking how to pull off an anonymous robocall and later bragging of having pulled off the Pierre Poutine robocall scheme, the latter details of which were by then widely available in the media.

Elections Canada dropped their investigation into other suspects and ridings and the RCMP granted immunity from prosecution to the Crown's star witness Andrew Prescott. Prescott's "evolving" testimony at trial - Sona's post-election toast to "Pierre", burner phone packaging in Sona's waste bin, and Sona's euphoric election morning office announcement "it's working, it's working" - the Crown stressed several times, "should be approached with caution". 

The three minute difference between the end of a 4:12am Election Day Pierre Poutine log out at RackNine as Client 93 and a 4:15am Andrew Prescott log in from the same IP address in the Guelph campaign office as Client 45 was never adequately explained at trial. 
However Prescott testified that sometime before 7pm that same day, an hour before polls were to close anyway, Guelph campaign chief Ken Morgan handed him the Pierre Poutine RackNine account log in info and instructed him to put a stop to the "Counter Fake EC" robocall. 

Mr. Morgan later decamped to Kuwait without ever being interviewed by Elections Canada and Mr Prescott destroyed the Guelph campaign computers.

Sona did not testify at his trial, as is his right, after repeatedly maintaining his innocence of the charges against him and therefore his lack of knowledge as to who else might have been involved. His lawyer Norm Boxall was confident they'd won their case according to Sona, given the lack of any material or electronic evidence connecting Sona with either RackNine or Pierre Poutine or a CIMS list of non-supporters. Sona did not have access to CIMS.

On August 14 2014 however, Justice Gary Hearn found that, while apparently not acting alone, Sona authored the initiating email to Racknine and purchased one or more of the various credit cards and the burner phone in order to direct Guelph voters to the wrong polling station on May 2 2011. He believed the testimony from the Conservative staffers and campaign co-workers, or rather, as he stated in his summation, he could not believe the Conservative staffers and co-workers made it all up.

In sentencing Sona in November 2014, Hearn found that despite defence lawyer Norm Boxall's characterization of Sona's actions as possibly a "prank gone terribly wrong", nine months in prison was :
"necessary in order that the public and particularly those involved in political campaigns at any level will appreciate that the courts regard this type of activity as criminal and to be treated seriously."
So off Sona went to jail and was back out on bail pending appeal of his sentence which he has just subsequently lost.

Guelph resident Susan Watson wrote the following day in the Guelph Mercury :
"Sona certainly didn’t access non-supporter lists in Winnipeg South Centre, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Temiskaming, Vancouver Island North and Yukon. In a court case involving these six ridings, Justice Richard Mosley found that “misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country, including the subject ridings.”
If he knows who it is he is doing time for "aiding and abetting", Sona isn't saying. 

Stripped of their in house authority to prosecute election offences courtesy of Harper's 2006 Federal Accountability Act, and with the no longer independent Commissioner now housed under the Attorney General's roof courtesy of the Fair Elections Act, Elections Canada has quietly rolled over and gone back to sleep. 

The website for Peter Smoczynski's documentary film Election Day in Canada : The Rise of Voter Suppression has two new interesting pieces on Sona :

Sona on his realization he had been pegged as a suspect, and

Stephen Maher's reflections on Sona as a fall guy after his conviction, in the film's trailer

Also see Michael Harris : 'I'm Tired': Michael Sona on robocalls, his suicide attempt -- and the road back


Anonymous said...

You've been on this a long time.- you think he's innocent?


the salamander said...

.. some day .. somewhere .. the Potemkin Village 'legacy' of ex PM and lame duck Calgary MP Stephen Harper will get blown off the map of Canadian 'Values' .. Sona was just a symptom of the 'situational ethics' & rabid partisan evangel belief system perpetrated under the Harper banner.. Some day, Canadians may gain insight into Ray Novak, Jason Kenney, Arthur Hamilton, Jenni Byrne.. and the greasy reality of 'westerner' Stephen Harper.. whew ! It gonna really stink .. !

Owen Gray said...

Like the Mafia, they are closed mouthed. But the criminality goes right to the top.

e.a.f. said...

Sona most likely believed the party would not let him go to jail. he was wrong. he was too low on the food chain. he is better off to spend his 9 months in jail writing a book. at least he can make some money and get even. he was abandoned by his party and he sure as hell wasn't in this alone. too much territory to cover.

Anonymous said...

Justice Mosley was clear this was a cross-Canada fraud operation but it likely only targeted specific close ridings. Perhaps Guelph didn't make the cut, didn't know about the others, and launched their own rogue operation which worked out nicely for the Cons when it was time to make a public offering to protect the rest.
Thanks for not giving up on this.

Anonymous said...

I would have a lot more sympathy for Michael Sona if he had availed himself of the opportunity at his trial to tell his side of the story and name names. That he has not done so looks like he is protecting somebody and that in turn makes me wonder what is in it for him to do so.

Alison said...

I don't know whether Sona is innocent or not.

In an interview with I think McMaher that is no longer available online, Sona says he is not innocent, he just isn't guilty of what he was charged with. He has admitted to wanting to respond in kind to the Liberal robocall about his candidate not being pro-choice with an anonymous one of his own and that he made inquiries to CPC HQ how to do it but was rebuffed. That Poutine robocall was set up at RackNine but was never activated.

There is something called the Innocent Prisoner's Dilemma. The way to get a reduced sentence or early parole is to admit guilt and show remorse but what if you are innocent of the charges laid against you? What if you can't name your presumed co-conspirators or bosses because you have no idea who they are?

The unreliable witness Prescott testified he was handed a piece of paper with the Poutine log in on Election Day and directed to shut down a robocall. Doesn't make him Poutine. Ken Morgan handed him that piece of paper. Doesn't make him Poutine either.

This trial came down to what the judge believed to be true out of testimony delivered by the party with the most to gain from shutting the whole issue down as expeditiously as possible, following an incomplete investigation carried out by a hamstrung and unprepared Elections Canada.

We're still a long way from knowing what actually happened here.

Unknown said...

I don't know what your day job is Alison but I love how you moonlight as one of Canada's best journalists.

Your "complete profile" reveals little about you but speaks volumes about your wisdom.

The post is missing one link... the recent Michael Harris piece on Michael Sona. It's dark and depressing. And hard to find.

Bill C-50, a.k.a. "The Fair Elections Act" should be repealed. But that's not going to happen, is it? It's not high on the radar and C50 entrenches power to whoever has it at the time. Election reform? Not going to happen.

Unknown said...

I don't know what your day job is Alison but I love how you moonlight as one of Canada's best journalists.

Your "complete profile" reveals little about you but speaks volumes about your wisdom.

The post is missing one link... the recent Michael Harris piece on Michael Sona. It's dark and depressing. And hard to find.

Bill C-50, a.k.a. "The Fair Elections Act" should be repealed. But that's not going to happen, is it? It's not high on the radar and C50 entrenches power to whoever has it at the time. Election reform? Not going to happen.

Kev said...

Sona to me has always seemed like the perfect patsy, the person who so fervently believed in the cause that he was easily manipulated. Is he innocent No Was he the mastermind? Definitely not.

Alison said...

Thanks, Diogenes - added link to Harris piece. And ... thank you.

Anonymous said...

Holly Stick here

Stephen Maher did tweet that Michael Sona is still in jail, but he did not elaborate, and I did not understand what it was about until now.

Anonymous said...

People need to believe the scapegoat is guilty because if he isn't, then they are at best dupes and at worst colluding with common thugs.
Ironically the original historical role of the scapegoat was to suffer in place of the sins of the tribe.

Michael Keefer said...

Thanks, Allison, for your fine research. It's important for people to understand how completely Judge Hearn's decision at Sona's trial depended on the information--in particular, the testimony of the Tory staffers--supplied to Elections Canada's investigation by the Conservative Party's lawyer Arthur Hamilton. My own view is that Sona had been drawn into the dirty-tricks culture and Tory-entitlement attitudes of the Harperites: he acknowledged childish (but illegal) stuff like taking out opposition-party signs, and there's evidence of serious arrogance in his attempt (on Party instructions) to shut down the special poll held on the University of Guelph campus--but I don't believe he was involved in the vote-suppression-by phone-calls stuff. The only person against whom there's solid material evidence is Andrew Prescott, whose links to RackNine show to have been either 'Pierre Poutine' or else closely associated with him. Another Guelph Conservative staffer, John White, is implicated by his own testimony as having downloaded from CIMS the phone list used in the 'Poutine' calls, and as having probably passed it on to Prescott. I offered some analysis of this in a sequence of essays published at Rabble.ca The last two of seven pieces are “Elections Canada bungled its investigation of Michael Sona and the robocall scandal.” Sabotaging Democracy blog, Rabble.ca (15 October 2015), http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/mkeefer/2015/10/elections-canada-bungled-its-investigation-michael-sona-and-2011-robo; and “After 2011 voter-suppression fraud, Conservatives remain unrepentant.” Sabotaging Democracy blog, Rabble.ca (18 October 2015), http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/mkeefer/2015/10/after-2011-voter-suppression-fraud-conservatives-remain-unrepentant.

Alison said...

Professor Keefer, we eagerly await your book on voter suppression in the 2011 election, Sabotaging Democracy

Elections Canada bungled its investigation of Michael Sona and the 2011 robocall scandal

After 2011 voter-suppression fraud, Conservatives remain unrepentant

Kev said...

We need to look back further than 2011 because as Elizabeth May points out the 2008 election was the proving ground for what we saw three years later

Alison said...

Kev : Nice to see you ;-)

Here's a 10 minute inside look at what happened in 2008 : Robocalls Ground Zero 2008 :

From Elizabeth May interview in the film :
"Whoever was playing with robocalls in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008 was finding out a couple of important things: it could be done, and the RCMP and Elections Canada would drop the ball and never find out who did it... That's why I keep calling for a national commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of it. Otherwise Canadians can't feel confident that our elections are fair, and that in itself becomes another form of voter suppression."

Kev said...

Always a pleasure to be here.

Peter has done yeoman's work on this file

Anonymous said...

It's weird but suddenly there are several articles out there about Sona.

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