OTTAWA – A junior Conservative staffer in Guelph, Ont., charged with elections offences bragged about his allegedly fraudulent exploits to other young partisans, newly released court documents show.
A judge partially lifted a publication ban Wednesday that prevented the release of details on Elections Canada interviews with six Conservative workers.
All six suggest that Michael Sona boasted to them about his alleged involvement in a series of fraudulent automated phone calls during the local Conservative candidate’s 2011 Guelph election campaign.
Sona, who has been charged with “having wilfully prevented or endeavoured to prevent an elector from voting at an election,” was in the courtroom and maintains his innocence, saying he’s being made a “scapegoat.” His lawyer is pushing to have the publication ban lifted.
In arguments Wednesday over the publication ban, more details emerged that highlighted the role of Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton in the damning testimony.
After the robocalls story blew open with media reports in February 2012, Hamilton brought three of the witnesses to the attention of Elections Canada investigators, and was also credited with convincing a fourth reluctant witness to testify.
“He phoned and said he had witnesses that he thought had information relevant to my investigation,” Elections Canada investigator Allan Mathews told the court Wednesday.
Hamilton subsequently sat in on all six of the interviews with Mathews.
Hamilton did not represent the witnesses, several of whom were not employed by the Conservative party but rather by MPs or senators — including Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former communications adviser.
One of the witnesses contacted Conservative party communications head Fred DeLorey before being put in touch with Hamilton, the court heard Wednesday.
The witness statements tended to corroborate the longstanding Conservative party argument that any fraudulent calls were the work of a rogue individual.
Two Conservative MP’s employees told Mathews that Sona paid them a social call about 10 days after the May 2, 2011 election.
One said Sona spoke of buying a “burn phone” with cash and buying a Visa card with cash so that it could not be traced.
And they told Mathews that Sona told them “he had a friend or an acquaintance of some sort that, according to him, owed him a favour.”
“And so that, he then approached that individual, requesting the names and phone numbers of Liberal voters in hopes to use them on a robo-type call to do with Elections Canada.”
“From what he told us, we understood that there was, you know, maybe one other person involved but it didn’t, from our impression, make it sound like it was a widespread operation,” one of the individuals told Mathews. “It was more of an individual endeavour.”
Another witness produced by Hamilton testified that he “understood from Sona that Sona obtained a (telephone) list by impersonating someone from the Liberal campaign, using an alias.”
The names of the six witnesses — none of whom worked on the Guelph campaign — remain under a publication ban, with a decision to be announced Friday on whether that information can be released.
The documents contain claims that have not been proven in court.
A number of other people who were actually involved in the Guelph Conservative campaign have refused to co-operate with investigators.
In a separate Federal Court civil suit, Judge Richard Mosley ruled last May that elections telephone fraud took place “in ridings across the country,” although he failed to overturn results in six contested ridings in a civil suit bankrolled by the Council of Canadians.
Mosley concluded that the “most likely source of the information used to make the misleading phone calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the (Conservative Party of Canada), accessed for that purpose by a person or persons unknown to this court.”
The testimony to Mathews was included in court documents used by the former career RCMP investigator in his efforts to obtain documents from a credit card company called Peoples Trust. Sona is alleged to have used four of these prepaid credit cards to buy a “burner” cellphone and set up robocalls through an Alberta-based company, Rack Nine.
Mathews said in the document he has grounds to believe “that Michael Sona, in the period shortly after election day, advised several of his acquaintances of participation in the false calls made to Guelph voters.”
— With files from Steve Rennie