It was the spring of 2012, and Michael Sona could see no other way out. Alone in his Ottawa apartment, he loaded up the magazine of his .45 calibre pistol with ten rounds — noting to himself the absurdity of the act.
“I just needed one. But you do weird stuff almost reflexively when you’re in that state of mind.”
There was the matter of last words, as there usually is when a desperate person decides to crash out by his own hand. Sona was overwhelmed by the enormity of his decision, thinking at first that it called for a lengthy missive. After all, he had to explain his actions to those he was leaving behind. In the end, the suicide note he placed on his kitchen counter read more like an epigram: “I’m not guilty, but I’m tired.”
It was all the 23 year-old had to say. Sona went into the bathroom and sat in the tub. He snapped the magazine home and chambered a round. The Hamlet moment had arrived — to be, or not to be.
Briefly he faltered, telling himself that he couldn’t do it. Thoughts of life crowded in, images of all those people who seemed too dear to leave. And as that indecisive prince once mused: “In that sleep of death, what dreams may come?”
With the loaded pistol in his hand, he felt the events of the previous year sweeping over him, flooding him with grief. Named and shamed — in his estimation — by his own party as the culprit in the notorious 2011 election robocalls scandal, named in court documents, his religious beliefs shaken, abandoned by people he thought were his friends. Unemployed, disgraced and alone.
“One minute it was, ‘I can’t do this’, and then I felt within myself a tidal wave of everything I was dealing with and it changed to, ‘I must do this,'” he recalled.
“People say it’s the easy way out. But it’s never easy and sometimes it’s the only way out. I didn’t think about it. I cocked the hammer back, put the .45 to my head, and pulled the trigger.
“This wasn’t a cry-for-help moment. This was an ‘I want it to be over’ moment.”
Instead of oblivion, Sona found himself drifting — but conscious. Time seemed to be operating differently, but he was still here on earth, very much alive. How could that be?
“When you drop the hammer on a gun like that, it sounds like a gunshot. I looked down and dropped the mag out of the pistol. The primer in the back of the bullet had a dimple in it, but it was defective. Maybe the round was too old.”
Was Michael Sona’s life spared by the failure of a four-cent primer? It hardly mattered. He was alive, the troubles of Job and all.
“When that happened, I started shaking. I have never felt as alive in my entire life. It was the biggest high I have ever experienced. I sat there and shook for at least a minute. I can’t explain to you the energy coursing through my body.
“I slept just fine that night. I felt decently well for the first time in a long time. Ever since that night, I have never considered doing it again.”
His accidental survival notwithstanding, Sona has no doubts about the reasons he had for squatting in a bathtub with a loaded gun pressed to his temple, with most of his life still unlived.
“It was all related to the case. I was emotionally broken. False reports from Elections Canada that had to be corrected by them. I never called anyone to ask how I could make misleading phone calls. You get to a point where you can’t go any further. It’s one thing if you push yourself to that point, but it’s another if someone else does the pushing.”
Michael Sona kept his suicide attempt to himself for a long time; he didn’t even tell his parents. He thought it was “better” that no one knew about it. The first person to hear his story, roughly a year and a half ago, was his parole officer.
Sona was by then — and remains to this day — the first and only person to be convicted in the robocalls scandal, the scheme which saw some 6,700 automated phone calls placed on the morning of the 2011 federal election — largely to voters in Guelph, Ont. — wrongly telling them that their polling station had been moved to another location.
While researching his pre-sentence report, his parole officer asked Sona if he had ever attempted “self-harm”. Sona’s admission became part of the parole officer’s assessment and accounted for the young man being put on suicide watch during his first night in jail.
Thirteen days later, he received bail while his sentence was appealed. Sona’s new lawyer, Howard Krongold, also mentioned his client’s attempted suicide in his factum for Sona’s May 18 appeal hearing. Krongold built his case for a lesser sentence on the argument that his client already had been effectively ruined and isn’t likely to be a threat to society — even though he once planned to be a communications consultant.
“Working in politics is not something I’m looking to do,” Sona said. “Being a machinist is fine with me.”
Looking back, Sona remains “hugely shocked” that the judge in his case “completely ignored everything that we said.
“We didn’t (call witnesses) because we thought we won. (Norm) Boxall (Sona’s trial lawyer) played it smart. He did everything he could. Norm even looked in on my family when I was inside.”
The judge acknowledged points made by the defence on cross-examination, and ripped into the Crown’s star witness, Andrew Prescott, describing him as self-serving and non-credible. But in finding Sona guilty, the judge said that Sona had convicted himself through what witnesses claimed he told them about his part in the crime.
Sona remains disconsolate about the fact that he has spent most of his twenties entangled in the still-unresolved events of the robocalls scandal. He says he doubts that the matter will ever end in justice without a public inquiry (though he does appear in Peter Smoczynski’s smashing film-in-progress about the robocalls affair, telling his side of the story).
Sona still finds it hard to believe that “certain people” were not questioned by investigators from Elections Canada, who relied heavily on information provided to them by Conservative Party of Canada lawyer Arthur Hamilton — who furnished witnesses and even sat in on their sessions with EC investigators, even though he was not their lawyer.
“How is it possible that any investigation into what happened in Guelph did not include an investigation of CPC Headquarters staff?” Sona asked. “It’s the same with the Duffy story. How could there be an investigation into him taking place without an investigation of the PMO?”
Ironically, Sona himself heard from many of the other people whose names surfaced during the robocalls scandal: Andrew Prescott, who got an immunity agreement from the Crown to testify against Sona before imploding on the stand; Ken Morgan, Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke’s campaign manager, who left the country for a teaching job in Kuwait and never testified, or talked to EC investigators; and campaign worker and computer expert John White, who said that he might have downloaded the telephone files from CPC HQ that were used by others to direct voters to the wrong polls in Guelph.
“I’ve heard from all of them, even Andrew Prescott,” Sona recalled. “Morgan messaged me around the trial to ask, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ He provided me some information on Prescott trying to trick him into taking an immunity deal. Morgan helped in a roundabout way. But he didn’t want any part of it. White’s call was just, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ … you know, a personal concern.”
Despite the Crown’s contention that he is shielding at least one other person involved in the Guelph robocalls, Sona adamantly denies that he is protecting anyone from justice.
“I see the way guys were treated who were supposed to be on the same team. There was no loyalty, no honour. I had to lay low, they said, I was toxic. Other people were allowed to continue, the ones higher up the food chain.
“Yeah, I feel betrayed. My head got put up on a silver charger there. It was an expeditious solution to a pretty pressing problem. It was a simple mathematical calculation. I held onto my belief for a while (in the party), but once I saw the Saskatchewan robocalls, I knew these guys don’t actually care. Harper was defeated because of robocalls. A part of the problem was they didn’t care about process or rules.”
Not many people get two Judgment Days. Maybe that’s why Michael Sona is philosophical about what will happen in his appeal hearing this week. He doesn’t know if the jail time meted out at his trial — nine months — will be forgiven, decreased, or extended. The Crown is asking for a 20 month period of incarceration in its counter-appeal on sentencing.
“Whatever it is, I’m ready to face it. My fortune cookie tonight said, ‘Get ready for something daring.’ Over the years, my fortune cookies have been both right and wrong.”
However the cookie crumbles, Sona insists he doesn’t want any visitors if he’s sent back to prison this week — that includes his family. He finds the ambiance too depressing to impose on the people he cares about most. The worst experiences should be suffered alone.
“I’m just trying not to get sick,” he said. “My stomach is in knots. I’m keeping the Tums company in business.”
Those who know Michael Sona know that he is quite the chef and baker. This past Monday evening in Guelph, the night before he went to Toronto for his hearing, Sona prepared jerk chicken from an Aruba recipe for his family. Just in case the fortune cookie gets it wrong.
“My Dad and I were just talking about this. One way or another, after years, this will be over. I can move on with life. Everyone just wants to live.”
Spoken like someone who survived a Judgment Day of the .45 calibre variety. Patrick Brazeau would understand.
Author: Michael Harris