WATCH: The search for answers in the so-called robocalls case got underway in Guelph, Ont. on Monday as the trial of Michael Sona, the only person ever charged the election fraud case, got underway. Mike Drolet reports.
GUELPH, ONT – “It went good.”
Those were the words of Michael Sona as he left his own trial in Guelph Monday, following the first day of testimony against him in the so-called robocall trial.
Many of Sona’s friends and former colleagues will be called to the stand to testify against him.
Andrew Prescott, a key witness in the Crown’s case who was offered immunity to testify against Sona, is expected to take the stand as early as Tuesday. Prescott worked as the deputy campaign manager and as the technology chair on the campaign.
Sona, 25, is charged with “wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting.”
On Monday, the Crown laid out its case, saying several witnesses will testify that Sona orchestrated a scheme to send non-Conservative voters to the wrong polling station during the 2011 federal election.
Sona has pleaded not guilty. If found guilty he faces up to five years in prison.
But Sona’s lawyer Norman Boxall repeatedly cast doubt on witnesses throughout the day. He also questioned why Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton was present during witness interviews with Elections Canada, and pointed out that witnesses made their statements after Sona was fingered in the media as the sole suspect in February 2012.
Chris Crawford, who worked as the canvas chair for Conservative candidate Marty Burke in Guelph, said he overheard Sona talking about American-style campaign politics to redirect voters to the wrong polling stations.
Crawford said a couple weeks before the May 2 election Sona was talking to campaign manager Ken Morgan about ways to make sure non-Conservative voters don’t show up at polls.
Sona also spoke of calling Liberal supporters late at night and “making them mad,” Crawford said.
Crawford said it was a general conversation, “speaking off the cuff,” and he didn’t take it seriously at the time.
“I really didn’t think anything of it,” Crawford told the court. “You don’t think these things will actually happen.”
Sona was working as the campaign’s director of communications.
Crawford had to re-read his statement from March 2012, then recalled telling Sona: “It’s something we should not do.” He said at the time the party should win the election “fairly and squarely.”
Sona did not really respond, Crawford testified. Morgan has since moved to Kuwait to work as a teacher and is not expected to testify.
But Crawford agreed with Boxall that it was not unusual to speak about U.S.-style politics, and that he never heard Sona say he was going to engage in voter suppression.
Crawford also admitted under cross-examination on the stand that a few months following his March 6, 2012 statement to Elections Canada, he was promoted within the Conservative government and given a $15,000 raise.
Another witness, John White, worked on the Burke campaign as a get-out-the-vote coordinator.
White testified that he referred Sona to Matt McBain, who then worked on opposition research for the Conservative Party headquarters.
Sona wanted to send out a call anonymously, White said. It may have been a call about a religious subject matter, although he didn’t have any specifics about what.
White said conversations about “nefarious activities” are commonplace during campaigns: “Nefarious activities that could happen to you or could be fun to do to someone else.”
But under cross-examination, when asked if the call he discussed with Sona was about changing polling stations, White said: “I think I would have remembered that.”
On the stand, McBain, who now works as a senior Tory policy advisor for agriculture, said he spoke with Sona only once about making autodial phone calls. But it “didn’t seem like the best use of time” and he never spoke with Sona about it again.
He didn’t recall Sona suggesting the call move polling stations, and also agreed that bad ideas come up during campaigns.
Conservative party lawyer Hamilton also accompanied McBain to his Elections Canada interviews.
Sona sat in the front row of the tidy courtroom in downtown Guelph beside his parents and grandmother. He told reporters to see “how it plays out in court” when he arrived Monday.
Sona has professed his innocence and said he is a scapegoat for the Conservative party. But several witnesses – many of them young fellow staffers – are expected to testify that he bragged about making the calls. Sona is expected to counter that he was out of town at the time of the alleged confession.
The alleged scheme involved making fraudulent robocalls from a burner cellphone registered to “Pierre Poutine,” and using the services of the Conservative party’s automated phone service, RackNine Inc.
The Crown says thousands of calls were made on election day and it is not known exactly how many people were prevented from voting because of the misleading message.
Court heard a fake name was used to register an account with RackNine and pay for the calls; a second campaign was supposed to go out but was never dialed.
The misleading robocall, which featured a woman’s voice in both French and English, was played in court Monday.
The Crown says the phone numbers provided to RackNine were consistent with internal Conservative party lists of non-supporters.
With files from The Canadian Press