Michael Sona robocalls trial hears‎ of possible 2nd culprit

A Conservative staffer says he remembers Michael Sona referring to another person's involvement in sending out a vote-suppressing phone call in Guelph, Ont., in the 2011 federal election. Sona, an ex-worker for a Tory candidate, is on trial in Guelph, charged in the so-called robocalls scandal tied to the 2011 federal election.

Michael Sona, 25, charged with trying to stop people from voting in Guelph, Ont., in 2011 federal election

Laura Payton on testimony today from key witness Andrew Prescott 6:14

A Conservative staffer testified he remembers Michael Sona referring to another person's involvement in sending out a vote-suppressing phone call in Guelph, Ont., in the last federal election in 2011.

Sona, a former director of communications for then Conservative candidate Marty Burke, is the only person charged in the so-called robocalls scandal. He's accused of using an automated calling website to tell some non-Conservative supporters on May 2, 2011, that‎ their polling station had moved. He faces a single charge of wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot. 

Sona has pleaded not guilty and‎ maintains he had nothing to do with the call, sent from a phone registered to the pseudonym Pierre Poutine.

John Schudlo, who works for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, told the court‎ in Guelph that Sona had used the word "we" when relating how he arranged for the call.

"I certainly got the impression that there was another person," Schudlo said.

"If he had said a name, I wouldn't have known who it was so it wouldn't have stuck in my mind."

Schudlo testified along with two former Hill staffers:

  • Mitchell Messom, a former Conservative Party intern who also worked for Stewart Olsen and in 2011 for Steven Fletcher, then democratic reform minister of state. Messom now lives in Nova Scotia
  • Benjamin Hicks, who used to work in the Prime Minister's Office and was president of the University of New Brunswick Conservatives.

Schudlo said he and colleague Rebecca Docksteader‎, who testified Wednesday, spoke to Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, who convinced Schudlo he had a duty to tell the truth.

'Shut the f--k up'

"‎Becky seems to remember a lot more. I don't really remember that much," Schudlo said he told Hamilton.

But he said he felt the need to corroborate Docksteader's statement since he had been there for the conversation.

Schudlo talked about how much he likes Sona, and said having to testify against him is "an odd situation."

He also said having to testify isn't something he looked forward to, nor was the media coverage he has seen that includes his name.

"I feel like I've lost a centimetre off my hairline," Schudlo said.

The court also heard from former Conservative Party intern Hicks, who said Sona had told him and some friends that the 2011 election was particularly nasty and that he'd arranged for an automated call to divert identified Liberal voters.

Hicks described Sona telling him and one other friend at an Ottawa lounge about feeling like he was in the action TV show 24. Hicks said Sona attributed that to delivering phone calls "without being traced."

During his testimony, Messom recalled telling Sona to "shut the f--k up," and stop telling people about planning and executing the misleading calls.

Tory lawyer a 'resource' for witnesses

Messom said he ran into Sona at a barbershop in Ottawa shortly after he spoke to an investigator with Elections Canada in March 2012.

He said Sona asked him not to reveal to anyone that they'd spoken about the misleading calls.

"Do me a favour, do not speak to anybody about what I told you," Messom testified Sona said to him.

Norm Boxall, Sona's lawyer, questioned Messom, Schudlo and Hicks about what they'd seen in the news versus what they remembered from the conversations they said they had with Sona. He also asked about differences between what they recalled Sona telling them and the facts of the case — Messom, for example, remembered Sona saying he bought the prepaid credit cards at a gas station.

They all described Sona as being a vivid storyteller and one who they thought sometimes exaggerated.

Messom testified several people in their circle of friends had heard Sona talk about the calls, though none of them went to the party or any authorities until they saw it in the news. He described Hicks's reaction when a number of them realized they'd all been told the same story.

"Ben threw up his hands and said, 'Who hasn’t he told?'" he said.

Boxall also asked them about the role Hamilton played in setting them up with Elections Canada. 

No testimony from Sona

‎Messom and Schudlo both referred to Hamilton being a "resource" for them in their interviews with Elections Canada.

On Wednesday, Andrew Prescott, a colleague of Sona's who was acting campaign manager for Burke, suggested Conservative campaign manager Ken Morgan was involved in setting up the misleading robocalls that confused voters.

Sona's lawyer questioned Prescott's memory and his motivation in recalling evidence that pointed to Sona as the culprit.

Sona faces up to five years in prison if convicted. 

The trial, which began Monday, has adjourned for the weekend. Boxall and Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson will make closing arguments on Monday. 

Sona will not testify.

Judge Gary Hearn said he doesn't expect to rule next week.

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