How much time should Michael Sona spend in jail for his involvement in the robocalls scandal that headlined the 2011 federal election? It depends on whom you ask. Sona is guilty of wilfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent a voter from casting a ballot for which the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and five years in prison. That’s clear, but it doesn’t mean that The Crown and Sona’s lawyers agree on an appropriate punishment. How much hard time should a man do for slandering the good name of Pierre’s Poutine?
For its part, The Crown thinks that Sona deserves to rot behind bars…for about 1.5 years. According to a CBC report, The Crown holds this opinion because of the serious nature of Sona’s crime. No one should be allowed to drag a local business, especially a poutine shack, through the dirt. Pierre’s Poutine is a French Canadian themed business operating in English Canada—it deserves respect! The Crown never actually said that— it focused on the fact that Sona’s actions violated the electoral process and voters’ constitutional rights—but it was implied. The Crown also said it would be “willing to accept” 18-20 months of house arrest as long as Sona cannot work during that time. Does Sona have a nice house? Surely the judge will consider this before sentencing. Still, Sona’s lawyer doesn’t agree with The Crown’s assessment.
Norm Boxall, the man responsible for Sona’s defence, doesn’t think Sona deserves such a stiff punishment. Pierre’s Poutine was never that good, he argued, so any damage Sona did to its reputation was inevitable, even without an election scandal. Boxall never said that, but, as with The Crown, it was implied. In actuality, he suggested that Sona should face probation and community service, no more than a month in jail (served in pieces so that he could work on breaks), or 6-12 months of house arrest with community service. He said a long sentence is not necessary because Sona has already stopped working in politics, and “loss of one’s reputation and respect is enough of a deterrent” for anyone who has worked in that field. Such truisms belong only in court.
Sona is a good person who committed a serious crime, Boxall contends. He has the support of his family, and his current employer likes him. Further, Boxall adds that this whole ordeal has been very stressful for Sona, and the young man has suffered enough. “What was in it for Mr. Sona?” he asked. Great question, Norm! Maybe Mr. Sona can answer that one for us.
This case would be more interesting if it was the first time Canada has experienced serious election problems. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Peter Penashue and Dean Del Mastro highlight a controversial cast of recent fraudsters who have broken public trust in Canadian democracy. The culprits come from all sides of the political spectrum. Sona is a drop in the bucket. He is boring.
Does it really matter if he does 12 or 20 months of house arrest of jail time? No. The Fair Elections Act just ensured that the federal government will not take robocalls or election fraud seriously for the foreseeable future. Sona’s people enjoy the protection of indifference. The only reason to obsess over his sentence is the misguided belief that he is the entire problem. He isn’t. Sona is one of many people who think that democracy is a means to an end, that it’s fine to mess around with an election as long as the right party wins. Sona’s jail sentence will do as much to restore the integrity of Canadian elections as would a piece of duct tape.
The point is that Michael Sona is a pawn. He’s the one guy who will take the fall for a widespread campaign of election fraud. The majority of the perpetrators, in the eyes of a Federal Court judge, are still “unknown to [the] Court.” Should Sona do time? Should Canadians expect more foul play next election? It doesn’t matter how you answer the first question; it doesn’t affect your answer to the second question. Lost in all this is Pierre’s Poutine, a small business in Guelph that is now better known for voter fraud than for French fries. Whether they helped or hurt the business, Sona’s individual actions undoubtedly had a greater effect on Pierre’s Poutine than they did on Canadian democracy. Forget sentencing. If Canadians want to right his wrong, they should head to Guelph to patronize the poutine shack.