A former Conservative campaign staffer charged in connection with the “Pierre Poutine” robo-calls told multiple acquaintances that he’d played a part in the 2011 effort to send opposition voters to the wrong polling station in a Southern Ontario riding, an Elections Canada investigator alleges.
Michael Sona, a former director of communications to then-Guelph Tory candidate Marty Burke, is facing a single charge under the Elections Act – one that was laid in April. He’s the only person charged so far in a scandal that has dogged the Conservative Party since 2012.
New details of the Elections Canada probe into the fraudulent calls were made public Monday after an Ontario judge partly lifted a publication ban on documents filed in court. The information offers insight into the case the election watchdog has been building against Mr. Sona.
It shows that investigator Allan Mathews has amassed a collection of witnesses – all current or former Conservative staffers – who allege Mr. Sona revealed his involvement in the matter to them.
“[Mr.] Sona, in the period shortly after election day, advised several of his acquaintances of participation in the false calls made to Guelph electors,” Mr. Mathews wrote in a sworn statement filed in court. “Witnesses have come forward to describe conversations they had with Michael Sona.”
A judge varied a publication ban covering some details of the investigation after a request from the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Global News.
The exact number of witnesses, their names and much of what they told Elections Canada remains under the ban.
The details that came to light Monday also show Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton attended the interviews these witnesses gave to Elections Canada investigators. Why he was there is not entirely clear.
The fact that Mr. Hamilton – whose job is to defend the party now in government – sat in on the witness interviews conducted by Elections Canada is expected to feature in Mr. Sona’s defence should the matter proceed to trial.
“I can’t comment on issues that will be addressed in court, but I don’t think a person has to be Sherlock Holmes to read between the lines on this,” Mr. Sona said in a statement Monday.
He was working as a political staffer on Parliament Hill when news of the robo-calls story broke in February, 2012. He lost that job shortly after and has since maintained his innocence, saying he is being scapegoated by the Tories.
In two interviews recounted by Mr. Mathews in his court filing, a couple of witnesses told Elections Canada that they had a talk with Mr. Sona after he dropped by the MP’s office where they worked in May, 2011.
“Both witnesses said that one afternoon, about a week to 10 days after the May 2, 2011 election, [Mr.] Sona visited the office. The visit was a social one, allowing party workers the chance to catch up with each other,” the court document said.
Some of the staffers allegedly told Mr. Mathews that Mr. Sona was prone to embellishing stories. “Both described him as someone given to exaggeration and telling ‘outlandish … tall tales.’”
The Elections Canada interviews with these Conservative staffers took place in late March and early April, 2012 – only a short while after the watchdog’s investigation into the robo-calls became public.
Mr. Sona’s lawyer, Norman Boxall, declined to comment on the latest details. “I remain of the view that trials should be conducted in Court not the media and my comments will be made in court.”
For nearly two years, Elections Canada has been probing the scheme behind more than 7,000 misleading automated calls sent to non-Conservative voters in Guelph, Ont., on May 2, 2011, a stunt that appeared to be an effort to suppress the non-Tory vote. Calls falsely informed voters their voting station had moved. Despite the robo-calls, the Liberal incumbent easily retained the riding.