Politics

Michael Sona's robocalls conviction merits 18-20 months in jail, Crown says

Michael Sona should serve at least a year and a half in jail for his part in unleashing misleading robocalls during Canada's last federal election, Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson says.

Ex-Conservative staffer to be sentenced Nov. 19 in Guelph, Ont.

Michael Sona is not a threat to society and shouldn't be sentenced to incarceration for his part in unleashing misleading robocalls in Guelph, Ont., during the last federal election, his lawyer says. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Michael Sona should serve at least a year and a half in jail for his part in unleashing misleading robocalls during Canada's last federal election, Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson argued Friday.

Michaelson told a judge in Guelph, Ont., that he was asking for 18 to 20 months in jail because of the serious nature of the offence, and the attack on the electoral process and constitutional rights.​

The Crown also asked for:

  • 240 hours of community service.
  • A stipulation that Sona not volunteer for a political campaign.
  • A stipulation that Sona make a public apology to voters in Guelph.

Michaelson said Sona has shown a complete lack of remorse and has told friends he is trying to rehabilitate his reputation. Michaelson said he needs to accept personal responsibility for his conduct.

Judge Gary Hearn asked whether it should matter that Sona was just 22 years old at the time, did not act alone and received little guidance from senior staff within the party. 

Michaelson said that if Sona been higher up in the campaign staff, he would have asked for a longer sentence.

The maximum penalty for wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot is a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.​

Sentencing set for Nov. 19

Sona's lawyer, however, told the judge that Sona shouldn't be sentenced to serious time.

Norm Boxall told the judge that the offence, while serious, is not one that requires Sona to be incarcerated for the protection of society.

Sona's lawyer submitted three sentences for the judge to consider: 

  • A suspended sentence with probation and 240 hours of community service.
  • A short sharp jail sentence of 14 to 30 days, served intermittently so he could continue to work.
  • A conditional sentence of six to 12 months (served under house arrest) and community service.

Michaelson conceded he's willing to accept 18 to 20 months of house arrest, but said Sona shouldn't be allowed to work in that time. 

Hearn said he needs time to consider the sentence and will announce it on Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. ET.

Good person, serious offence

Sona was found guilty in August of trying to interfere with voters' ability to cast ballots in the May 2, 2011, federal election. He was working as director of communications for Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke. Liberal MP Frank Valeriote held on to the seat.

Sona is now 26 years old and working as a machinist's apprentice, his lawyer told the court. He left politics because of the conviction. Boxall said Sona has great support from his family and has received a glowing report from his current employer.

Sentencing in this case will be difficult because it involves a good person committing a serious offence, Boxall told the judge.

The process has been "very stressful for him and [he] was concerned about what this brought to his family," Boxall said of Sona.

A long sentence is not needed in this case for deterrence, he said, because the loss of one's reputation and respect is enough of a deterrent for anyone involved in politics.

"What was in it for Mr. Sona? Some misguided respect from some small people?" Boxall said.

Pawn in political chess game

Earlier Friday, the court heard victim impact statements from Sarah Parro, who was voting in her first election on May 2, 2011, and Anne Budra, who was the returning officer in Guelph in 2011.

Parro said she nearly went to the wrong polling station, but her father advised her against it.

"I believed in change, I believed in trusting our political leaders," Parro told the court.

She said she used to be passionate about politics, but now feels like a pawn in someone else's political chess game.

"It's no different than a stolen election in Third World countries," Parro added.

Budra, who has worked for Elections Canada for 40 years, said people blamed her and that eventually she was dubbed Ms. Poutine, for the pseudonym Pierre Poutine that was used to register the cellphone used in the robocalls

Outside the courthouse, Budra said she doesn't think Sona was the only culprit, but that the crime demands a stiff penalty.

"I don't agree with a fine and going to volunteer somewhere. No, I don't. This was a criminal act in our democracy," she said. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.