Star robocalls witness points to Michael Sona, Ken Morgan

Andrew Prescott, the star witness at the trial of Michael Sona, suggested Guelph, Ont., Conservative campaign manager Ken Morgan was involved in setting up the misleading robocalls that confused voters in the last federal election.

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

Michael Sona robocalls trial

10 years ago
Duration 6:14
Laura Payton on testimony today from key witness Andrew Prescott

Andrew Prescott, the star witness at the trial of Michael Sona, suggested Conservative campaign manager Ken Morgan was involved in setting up the misleading robocalls that confused Guelph, Ont., voters in the last federal election.

Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for the Conservative candidate in Guelph in 2011, said the campaign office was getting reports from supporters on May 2 that year that they had received phone calls telling them their polling station had moved, as well as a call that said the polls would close early.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Prescott says Morgan told him he had to help stop the calls, handed him a sheet of paper with a scrawled log-i‎n and password, and had him cancel calls that were still pending.

Prescott says Morgan told him, “I need you to stop the dialing,” and gently pushed him toward Prescott's computer.

Prescott said he opened his browser and went to RackNine, where his client account opened automatically. He said he then logged into the other account based on the information Morgan handed him.

He said he could tell something was going on and didn't want to get involved.

“I kept my vision very limited because I knew the system” and knew where to go, Prescott told the court.

There were more calls waiting to go out, which Prescott said he cancelled before logging out.

First suggestion it wasn't just Sona

Prescott's testimony represents the first time it's been suggested in the trial that someone other than Sona may have been involved.

Morgan took a teaching job in Kuwait before the investigation into the misleading calls was made public, and isn't one of the witnesses for the trial.

Sona is the only person accused. He faces a single charge of wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot.

Prescott also alleges Sona emerged from his cubicle the morning of election day and said "it's working."

Sona, Prescott said, was shaking with excitement and said the words in a "quiet, almost euphoric” voice.

The campaign used a website that let them deploy prerecorded messages by phone to lists of supporters. Sona is accused of using the same system to try to prevent supporters of other political parties from voting.

Prescott told the court he saw a cellphone on Sona's desk at the campaign office, and packaging in the garbage can.

Prescott says he has worked at Future Shop in the past and recognized the cellphone as a burner, or disposable, phone.

The misleading calls were made from a disposable cellphone purchased at Future Shop that was registered under the name Pierre Poutine.

Sona's lawyer accused Prescott of involvement

Prescott also said he recalled Sona toasting "thanks to Pierre" at a social event, armed with a cigar.

On Tuesday, Sona's lawyer suggested Prescott may be the real culprit behind the call. 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.

On Wednesday, Norm Boxall raised questions about Prescott's memory and motivation during his cross-examination. Boxall pointed out these assertions had come after Prescott's first interview with investigator Al Mathews after signing the immunity agreement.

Prescott's immunity agreement may make him the most important witness in the Crown's case.

The IT worker left Ontario in the wake of the allegations swirling around the Guelph Conservatives in the past few years.

Prescott arrived alone at the courthouse Tuesday afternoon and had to pass Sona, who gave him a tight smile. The two haven't spoken in months despite having toiled on the same election campaign.

Tight circle of local Tories recalled

Prescott's testimony shed light on a seemingly tight circle of Guelph Conservatives going back as far as the campaign that gave the federal party its first minority government.

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)
Morgan and Prescott met during the 2005-06 campaign, and Morgan eventually invited Prescott to join the riding association board, then supported him becoming riding association president.

Sona and Prescott had been friends since 2007 and got to be close during the 2008 campaign. Prescott‎ described essentially recruiting Sona back for the 2011 campaign when Sona considered working on other campaigns.

What happened in 2011 has driven a wedge in that friendship.

Boxall suggested it's important to Prescott that the culprit is found so Prescott's name is clear. Prescott agreed with that, as well as with Boxall's assertion that he has at times felt the media coverage was unfair.

But Prescott disagreed it would overall be good if Sona was convicted.

"Only if he's guilty," Prescott said.

Prescott questioned over campaign tactics

Boxall also questioned Prescott's public statements through social media that his morals wouldn't allow him to make the misleading robocalls, raising examples of discussions Prescott had with Sona and others about election stunts.

The pseudonym used to register a phone that made a misleading robocall in Guelph, Ont., in the 2011 federal election is thought to come from this downtown Guelph poutine shop. (Laura Payton/CBC)
One stunt had the Conservative supporters create a bingo sheet of phrases frequently employed by Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, their competition in the riding. The Conservatives left the sheet on Valeriote's podium ahead of the debate to throw him off his messaging and interfere with his performance.

"Is that consistent with your morality?" Boxall asked.

Prescott paused before answering.

"Yes, because Frank Valeriote‎ is the individual who, of all the members of Parliament, I don't respect," Prescott said.

Prescott alleged Valeriote used his church to spread rumours about Conservative candidates and said he wanted people to know about that.

Sona has maintained innocence 

The day wrapped up with testimony by Rebecca Docksteader, who in 2011 worked for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin.

Docksteader told the court that she and a colleague were working in their office in the same Parliament Hill hallway where Sona worked, when he started chatting with them and then bragged about the bogus call.

Docksteader said she didn't say anything to anyone at the time because Sona was prone to exaggeration and she had no evidence that he had anything to do with what he'd bragged about.

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 Conservative candidate Marty Burke.

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, which began Monday, is to last eight days.