November 19, 2014 / 8:29 PM / in 3 years

Ex-staffer for Canada's ruling Conservatives jailed in robocalls case

TORONTO (Reuters) - A former campaign worker for Canada’s governing Conservative Party was sentenced to nine months in jail on Wednesday for a robocall campaign that sought to send voters who supported other parties to the wrong polling station in the last election.

Michael Sona, 26, was also sentenced to 12 months probation. He could have been sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty in August of one charge of preventing voters from casting their ballots in the May 2011 federal election.

Critics of the Conservative government say the case was a small part of a broader fraud in the 2011 election, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government re-elected with a majority.

Describing his client as “disappointed but strong,” Sona’s lawyer Norman Boxall said Sona will consider an appeal.

An Ontario judge said in August that Sona was at least partly responsible for around 7,000 automated phone calls made on election day that falsely told voters the locations of their polling stations had changed.

At the time, Sona worked for the Conservative candidate in Guelph, Ontario, who failed to win the seat in parliament from the opposition Liberals.

Ontario Judge Gary Hearn said he was sure that others were involved in the Guelph affair. The manager of the Conservative campaign in Guelph moved to Kuwait after the election and declined to speak to investigators.

The Council of Canadians, which supported legal challenges of the 2011 election results in six ridings across Canada, said the investigation should focus on who accessed the Conservative Party database for voter information used to make the calls.

The judge “made it clear in his verdict that the ringleaders are still roaming free,” Council of Canadians spokesman Dylan Penner said in a statement.

While Sona’s lawyer said it was clear more than one person was involved in the crime, he doubts more charges will be laid.

The Conservative Party denied it was involved in the robocalls campaign.

Elections Canada, the federal agency responsible for running elections, received complaints about misleading phone calls in 247 of Canada’s 308 districts in 2011, but concluded in April there was not enough evidence to prove an offense had been committed, with the exception of the Sona case.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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