Michael Sona's lawyer suggests Andrew Prescott set up robocalls

A lawyer for the man accused of setting up an illegal misleading robocall during the last federal election suggested Tuesday that a witness with an immunity agreement may be the real culprit behind the call.

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

Andrew Prescott, right, has testified against his former friend, Michael Sona, left, who is charged with making a robocall that directed some Guelph, Ont., voters to the wrong polling station. Conservative candidate Marty Burke also appears in the photo, along with an unidentified woman. (Facebook)

A lawyer for the man accused of setting up an illegal misleading robocall during the last federal election suggested Tuesday that a witness with an immunity agreement may be the real culprit behind the call.

Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for the Conservative candidate in Guelph, Ont., in the 2011 federal election, is set to testify today against his former friend, Michael Sona, who is charged with making a robocall that directed some voters in the town to the wrong polling station.

Prescott may be the most important witness in the Crown's case: he signed an immunity agreement to protect him from whatever testimony he provides.

Sona faces a single charge of wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot, in the so-called robocalls case related to automated calls made under the pseudonym Pierre Poutine on election day – May 2, 2011.

While Prescott is due to testify Wednesday, his name came up repeatedly as Sona's defence lawyer Norm Boxall cross-examined Matt Meier, the owner of RackNine, the robocall service used to make the misleading calls in Guelph.

Prescott was supposed to testify Tuesday, but extended questioning of Meier meant the trial didn't get through all the witnesses expected for the day. 

Prescott has rarely spoken about the robocalls investigation, but in October 2012 called misleading voters a "disgusting" trick and said he appreciated the support of family and friends who knew he had nothing to do with it.

Boxall suggested Meier tipped off Prescott that Meier's records suggested a link between the campaign and the misleading calls.

Meier denied that, though he said he was in touch with Prescott after Elections Canada first asked him about the illegal calls. ​

Gave evidence to Conservative Party

Boxall also asked whether he would have recognized Prescott's voice if Prescott had phoned Meier to set up the account that sent the calls. Meier said he couldn't exclude Prescott as a possibility.

Meier also said under cross-examination that he had given evidence he gathered for Elections Canada to a friend at the Conservative Party, Madi Murariu, who has worked in a variety of roles since 2008. A social networking site lists her job at the time as outreach manager.

Meier's records show the Pierre Poutine account and Prescott's account logged into RackNine within moments of each other and from the same IP address in the early morning hours before the election.

Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson read to the court the text of some of Meier's emails‎ from when he set up the account used to make the misleading robocalls.

Meier explained to the person calling himself Pierre Jones that he needed the client's full name and contact information for security reasons.

The system he built, he said in the 2011 email, allows for "serious damage."

Meier's testimony took several hours as the lawyers and judge tried to understand how the back-end of his service works and the limits on the client information he can pull from it.

No record of some searches

The Conservative Party confirmed to investigators close to the start of the probe that it appeared the phone numbers used for the misleading calls had come from its database.

Chris Rougier, who in 2011 was in charge of voter relations for the party, testified how the database could be used to sort and extract lists. He said users needed to get log-in information from the party to be able to use the Constituent Information Management System, or CIMS, and that users in other ridings couldn't access each other's listings.

CIMS also keeps logs of those who export lists, he said, although he admitted under cross-examination that at the time of the misleading robocall there were no logs created when users did a specific search for constituent records.

Tuesday's testimony started with witnesses who had worked at the same polling station to which Sona was assigned on behalf of Conservative candidate Marty Burke on election day.

The Crown established that Sona signed in at 11:21 a.m., although the defence raised questions about whether Sona arrived before the deputy returning officer signed and dated his arrival form.

Sona maintains his innocence

The other witnesses for the Crown include Sona's colleagues from the campaign and from Parliament Hill. The prosecutor said they're expected to say that Sona bragged about the misleading robocalls.

On Monday, a former friend of Sona said he overheard the Guelph Conservative campaign worker discussing voter suppression tactics. A party official said Sona asked him about making untraceable phone calls. Under cross-examination by Sona's lawyer, both men said Sona hadn't said anything to suggest he would use the tactics.

Sona has always said he had nothing to do with the calls, but faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the single charge. 

Sona, 22 at the time of the campaign, was the director of communications for Burke.

Burke's campaign manager, Ken Morgan, moved to Kuwait in the months after the election and isn't expected to be back in Guelph to testify.

While hundreds of people outside Guelph also complained about misleading or harassing robocalls, a report by Elections Canada later found that there wasn't enough evidence to support the idea of a co-ordinated campaign to suppress the vote across the country.

The trial is to last eight days.


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