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Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sona Trial Day #2 - Into the RackNine Matrix

Day two of the robocall trial dispatched two witnesses quickly before getting to the first star witness of the trial, RackNine CEO Mark Meier. If day one set up the dynamics of the Burke campaign and the personalities involved, then day two was about the technobabble of the autodial technology: who had access, who had the means, and who had the opportunity. The defense thinks that person is Andrew Prescott, and I'm not entirely convinced that the Crown doesn't think it either.
First up was Taylor Ing, a deputy returning officer at the West End Rec Centre on Election Day 2011. Chris Crawford had signed into his poll as a scrutineer for Marty Burke, and so to, apparently had Michael Sona, although Ing couldn't make out the last name written on the form. After Ing, David Birtwhistle was called to the stand. Birtwhistle was also a scrutineer at the West End Rec Centre for the Burke campaign, and was relieved by Sona at 11 am. The point, I think, was to suggest that while Birtwhistle was waiting for Sona to show up, Sona was back at the campaign office initiating Operation: Poutine.
Next was the star of the day, Matt Meier. Meier outlined the background of RackNine, their services and their now infamous robocall service 2call. Meier told the court that his software could be used by individuals of any technical expertise.
From Meier's point of view, he was introduced to "Pierre S. Jones" through a phone call. Claiming to be from Joliette, Quebec and bring a marketing student at the University of Ottawa, "Jones" was given access to RackNine's services on April 30, with a warning from Meier that he was concerned that a system that could reach millions of people might be "mishandled." But there he was, with a new client with a fake name, fake address and fake backstory, giving "Jones" access.
Meier would hear from "Jones" a few times over the next couple of days as the "student" tried to load credit on to his account from PayPal. Meier thought it might be a server issue on his end, as RackNine was in the process of moving their servers over that very weekend, but it turned out to be a gateway issue on PayPal's end. Either way, "Jones" was quite eager to get started using his RackNine account, and Meier added the credit himself to the Client #93 account, which belonged to "Jones."
All these red flags came back to Meier in Norm Boxall's cross examination. The attorney asked why Meier was remarkably unconcerned about giving access to someone whom he just met on the telephone. It's okay because "Jones" had a referral, the Conservative Party of Canada. No specific person from the party, just the party. That was good enough for Meier since a lot of his business came from the Federal Conservatives. As for security, Meier said PayPal is all over that, they know who's real, and in 2011 about half of RackNine's clients used PayPal, including Andrew Prescott. Of course, as Boxall pointed out, PayPal only cares about getting paid.
As for the sudden call on Saturday night, no big deal, in the "rush of politics" this is not unusual, said Meier. Plus, Meier said, "I basically work 24 hours a day." Considering that the initial investment by "Jones" was merely $50, Boxall asked why the "high level of service."
"We have a commitment to customer service," said Meier.
"By 2011 you were pretty successful..." Boxall began.
"That doesn't change out commitment to customer service.
Meier added that he can't remember any specifics about the voice he talked to that identified himself as "Pierre Jones," except that he was youngish and male. "Jones" also never revealed anything specific about himself, at least nothing that Meier could recall. As for the defense's alternative theory of the case, Meier said that he had talked to Prescott on the phone a couple of times, and couldn't exclude the possibility that Prescott and "Jones" were one and the same.
In the final intriguing bit of testimony before lunch, Boxall asked about others that Meier may have spoken to once Elections Canada came to call in November 2011. Meier said he reached out to his lawyer, Chris Rougier from Conservative Party headquarters, and by e-mail, Andrew Prescott. Meier said he couldn't remember if Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews had told him to not talk to anyone about the case, but reached out to Prescott to ask him if he knew anything about this investigation. Meier said he eventually broke off all contact with Prescott when "it became clear we shouldn't be talking," sometime between the first and second meeting with Mathews.
Boxall then pointed out that Prescott had recommended Meier and endorsed him on the social media site Linked In sometime in December 2011, after Meier contacted Prescott about his visit from Mathews. "I doubt anyone would be giving me a recommendation based on that," said Meier. Still, Meier would be in contact with Prescott again earlier this year, sending the blogger a "cutsey message" about the end of Elections Canada's investigation, saying something to the effect of "the scandal doesn't seem as big as they made it out to be."
After the lunch break, the cross-examination of Meier continued with Boxall trying to zero in on the connections between Prescott and "Jones," including communications between Meier and Prescott after Mathews started looking at RackNine in connection to the robocall scandal.
Chris Rougier was the last person to take the stand Tuesday. Rougier was the manager of voter relations at the national office of the Conservative Party, and was the primary user of CIMS. Rougier testified that one had to be a member of the Guelph campaign to download a list of Guelph voters from the database, before the Crown moved on to the question of who had access in Guelph. A list presented in evidence had six names, Sona's was not among them.
In cross, Rougier was asked by Boxall about the lists downloaded by Prescott, and the method by which those lists were organized. Rougier noted that the lists were organized by support, meaning that the voters on the CIMS list were separated by their declared support for a given candidate. Rougier also said that in April 2011 it was possible to get information without leaving any record of what was taken. That wasn't common knowledge at the time, and the glitch has since been repaired. Rougier also said that he hadn't had contact with Prescott since the investigation began.
Tomorrow, we hear from the man we all came here to see" Andrew Prescott. He and several of Sona's colleagues from Ottawa are expected to take the stand on Wednesday.

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