WATCH: Michael Sona, the only person convicted in the robocalls scandal, is going to jail. The judge called his actions “distasteful and disturbing,” and doesn’t think he acted alone. Mike Drolet reports.
GUELPH – Michael Sona was led out of a courtroom and into a cell after a judge sentenced him to nine months in jail Wednesday for his role in the 2011 robocalls scheme.
Calling it a “difficult and troublesome sentencing,” Judge Gary Hearn nonetheless ruled that the 26-year-old former Conservative staffer should serve time behind bars for what Hearn called “an affront to the electoral process.”
“This was much more than a prank, ” Hearn told a Guelph, Ont. court.
“It is not only criminal but distasteful and disturbing.”
Hearn also sentenced Sona to 12 months probation following his jail stint. He noted Sona is “highly unlikely” to commit another criminal act.
“Anything less than a period of imprisonment would fall short in my view of properly denouncing such conduct,” Hearn said.
Sona’s family left the court in tears.
Outside court, Sona’s lawyer, Norm Boxall, said his client is considering an appeal, and he will be consulting with another lawyer.
“Those decisions are best made when persons can reflect calmly and logically and not do them in the emotional aftermath of a decision,” Boxall said.
It’s possible Sona could be granted parole after three months in jail. Boxall didn’t know which provincial jail Sona would be taken to, but Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont. is less than an hour away.
Boxall – who asked that Sona be given probation or house arrest – said his client was disappointed with the sentence, “but he’s strong.”
“I always have concerns for anyone being in jail. I wouldn’t say that they’re more for him than anyone else,” Boxall said.
In his decision, Hearn made note of several “aggravating factors” that resulted in his decision.
Although Sona is a first-time offender with a supportive family, a good education and a stable job as a machinist’s apprentice, Hearn said his role in the scheme “showed a callous and blatant disregard for the rights of those individuals entitled to vote.”
Although Sona didn’t act alone, Hearn ruled in August the former Conservative staffer was “very actively” involved in a scheme to send thousands of misleading calls to Guelph voters during the last election.
“The actions of Mr. Sona, and likely another or others, were planned, deliberate and involved some degree of sophistication,” Hearn said.
The actions including setting up a fake robocalls account with firm RackNine, purchasing a burner cellphone under the fictitious name “Pierre Poutine,” and sending out the calls on election day – although Hearn said the court couldn’t be sure it was Sona who pushed the button.
“Although it is unknown how many voters were actually deterred or prevented from exercising the vote even if one elector was so impacted, that is one too many.”
He also noted Sona seemed unaware of the seriousness of his crime.
“He casually and apparently quite proudly boasted of his actions to others and without any hint of remorse, concern or regret.”
Court also heard that Sona suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a child, and has gone through periods of stress and depression as a result of his charges.
“He has suffered embarrassment, humiliation and depression and has attempted some rather drastic steps to deal with his personal situation,” Hearn said.
Sona’s lawyer would not elaborate on what Hearn meant by “drastic steps.”
Sona is the only person to have been charged with placing the calls. He has 30 days as of sentencing to appeal his conviction.
Crown attorney Ruth McGuirl said the judge sent a message that interfering with the rights of voters warrants jail time. “It is hopeful this sentence will send a message which will deter anyone who would like to participate in any kind of similar conduct.”
Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson had asked for Sona to be sentenced to 18 to 20 months in jail. He also asked for Sona to make a public apology.
In Hearn’s decision, he addressed the possibility of an apology.
“There is no value in a forced apology in the face of an unrepentant attitude,” he said.
“If Mr. Sona wishes at some point to provide such an apology it will be his decision to do so.”
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