Ex-Tory staffer found guilty of obstructing voters in Robocalls scandal

Former Conservative party staffer Michael Sona has been found guilty of trying to prevent voters from marking their ballots during the 2011 federal election.

Sona, 25, was the only person charged in what has come to be known as the robocalls scandal, in which automated calls were set up to target voters in Guelph — most of them Liberal supporters — with misleading instructions on where to vote.

The Edmonton-based technology company RackNine was hired to make the calls to some 6,700 Guelph phone numbers by a customer who used fake names, including the pseudonym Pierre Poutine.

Sona's lawyer, Norm Boxall, elected not to call any witnesses at the trial and argued that the Crown failed to definitively prove that Sona was involved in the scheme.

However, in handing down the decision, Justice Gary Hearn said the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Sona "was involved in the scheme very actively.''

Boxall and Crown attorney Croft Michaelson both told Hearn during their closing arguments that they believed more than one person was involved in the plot.

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann was quick to react to the verdict.

"Voter suppression is extremely serious and those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That's why we reached out to Elections Canada when we heard of wrongdoing in Guelph and did all we could to assist them,'' Hann said in a statement.

"As we've said all along, the Conservative party ran a clean and ethical campaign.''

Court heard testimony from a number of Sona's former colleagues, who said he spoke of wanting to employ some underhanded campaigning tactics before the election, and then bragged about launching the calls afterwards.

The Crown's star witness was former friend and co-worker Andrew Prescott, who testified against Sona in exchange for an immunity agreement.

He told court he heard Sona jubilantly declare, "It's working,'' on the morning of election day. Prescott said Sona later toasted Stephen Harper's majority win by giving "thanks to Pierre'' — an apparent reference to the pseudonym used to order the calls.

But both the Crown and defence said Prescott wasn't an entirely credible witness. During his closing remarks, Michaelson told Hearn that Prescott's testimony ``should probably be approached with caution.''

Indeed, in the decision, Hearn said he largely rejected the testimony of Prescott, but found the totality of other evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Sona was in some way involved in the scheme.

Other witnesses, Hearn said, were "candid, forthright and consistent.''

Boxall noted Prescott gave inconsistent answers during pre-trial interviews with the Crown and Elections Canada. He suggested Prescott had more technical know-how than Sona and was more likely to have been behind the calls.

"Mr. Prescott is deflecting responsibility from himself and perhaps others,'' Boxall told Hearn.

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