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robo-calls scandal

Guelph Conservative MP Marty Burke, left, chats with his director of communications Michael Sona before the Here for Canada rally April 4, 2011 in Guelph, Ontario.

Staffers at the 2011 Conservative campaign in Guelph discussed making misleading calls to voters, Elections Canada reports in new court filings on the robo-calls scandal.

At the same time, the computer that robo-calls fraudster "Pierre Poutine" used to arrange misleading calls to voters is the same one used by a Guelph Conservative campaign staffer to order legitimate dialing campaigns, federal election investigators believe.

The documents offer new evidence linking this local Tory campaign to thousands of fraudulent robo-calls sent by someone hiding behind the now-notorious alias – a ploy that directed non-Conservative voters to the wrong Guelph polling station on election day.

Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews says two Conservative officials in the Ontario riding – Marty Burke campaign manager Ken Morgan and director of communications Michael Sona – were overheard discussing the use of harassing and misleading calls in U.S. political races.

Two days before voting day, Mr. Mathews also reports, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Sona asked a campaign colleague to give them contact information for RackNine Inc., the Alberta firm used to deliver the fraudulent robo-calls.

They sought this from Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager, the staffer already apparently designated to deal with RackNine and arrange legitimate automated phone campaigns.

RackNine had assigned internal numbers to different customers. It designated the account for Pierre Poutine – who also called himself Pierre Jones – as #93. It assigned #45 to the account used by Mr. Prescott to arrange automated campaign calls for the Burke campaign.

Computer logs, Mr. Mathews reported, "at a minimum … mean that client #93 used the same computer as did client #45" to access RackNine services over the Internet.

Elections Canada has said it does not suspect RackNine of involvement in the robo-calls.

The watchdog has alleged in past court filings that someone connected to the local Conservative campaign in Guelph, with the help of a disposable cellphone, engineered a scheme to dial voters of rival parties and tell them, falsely, that their polling station had been changed.

Mr. Mathews has also for the first time uncovered evidence that the list of phone numbers Pierre Poutine used to deceive Guelph voters was drawn up using information from the Conservative Party's internal database of electors. He said the Poutine list was consistent with one found in the party's constituency information management system.

Mr. Sona, the son of a Guelph minister, has been linked to the controversy by Conservatives but has publicly protested his innocence.

In both instances where fellow Conservative staffers informed Elections Canada of Mr. Sona's discussion about misleading calls, the Tories recounting the alleged conversations were accompanied by party lawyer Arthur Hamilton.

An official in the 2011 Conservative election war room, Matthew McBain, recounted a phone conversation with Mr. Sona during the campaign for Elections Canada investigators.

"Sona spoke to McBain about a campaign of disinformation such as making a misleading poll-moving call. McBain warned Sona off such conduct as the party would not stand for it," the court document states.

Christopher Crawford, a member of the local Guelph election campaign, talked about conversations he overheard between Mr. Sona and Mr. Morgan.

Mr. Crawford told Elections Canada he overheard a conversation in which Mr. Sona "was describing 'how the Americans do politics,' using the examples of calling non-supporters late at night, pretending to be Liberals, or calling electors to tell them that their poll location had changed."

He told Elections Canada he did not think that Mr. Sona "was serious," but he added that he told his colleague that "his comments were not appropriate."