Byron Sonne: Canadian security geek jailed for taunting G20 security theatre

The current issue of Toronto Life's cover story is the sad and perverse tale of Byron Sonne, a Toronto security researcher, hackspace stalwart, and anarcho-libertarian who decided to show up the security theatre at play in last year's billion-dollar-plus G20 preparations. Sonne published extensive accounts of the vulnerabilities in the preparations, taunting the police and officials who were putting on a kind of repressive, city-wide puppet show about security, rather than securing much of anything. Sonne was arrested and spent more than just under a year in jail, being held without bail on a variety of charges, almost all of which have been dropped (his bail conditions are nothing short of Kafkaesque). Sonne's actions seem, on their face, to be over-the-top and ill-considered (though we haven't heard his side of things yet), but the Canadian judicial system's response is so insanely paranoid that it makes Sonne look extremely reasonable by comparison.

Sonne's story is the sad tale of a geek who lost everything -- his marriage, his home, his livelihood -- because he couldn't figure out how to contain or express his disgust with the state's increasing encroachment on personal liberty. If the authorities wanted to make an object lesson to scare activists into quietly accepting "security" measures, the response to the Toronto G20 (including the arrest and jailing of Sonne) is absolutely fit for purpose.

At a preliminary hearing in February, most of Sonne's charges were dropped. The mischief charge is gone, as are two counts of intimidating justice system officials, one of them "by watch and beset," an extremely rare charge that refers to stalking and threatening. The weapons charge was also dismissed. (The potato guns at the Sonnes' cottage aren't illegal and, evidently, aren't going to be counted against him.)

Sonne still faces the explosives charge, plus a new charge added at the end of the preliminary: counselling to commit mischief not committed. Simply put, it seems his Internet posts showed people how to disable security cameras and tear the fence down, although no one acted on that information. He had to return to jail when the hearing was over, and he anticipated being there at least another six weeks while his lawyers prepared his third bail application. His parents are burning through their retirement fund to pay for the legal costs. Sonne carries a lot of guilt about the stress his arrest is putting on his family and friends (some of whom have been cautioned by their employers not to associate with him). His certification as a security system professional was suspended pending an acquittal, and he suspects he'll have trouble getting security work after this, even if he is vindicated. On top of all that, it looks like his marriage is over.

How Byron Sonne's obsession with the G20 security apparatus cost him everything

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. Not entirely unrelated – it’s high time someone made a film of P.K. Dick’s, The Man Who Japed

  2. How dare the government jail someone whose only crime was to criticize them AND TO POSSESS ILLEGAL EXPLOSIVES.

    1. Given the “weapons” charge over a potato cannon, I am not inclined to give the explosives charge the benefit of a doubt.

    2. @smncameron

      It would serve you well to do some self-education on the difference between a charge and a conviction. Byron has been charged with Possession of Explosives – that is very different from being convicted of the same crime. He has been held for 11 months based on an unproven accusation.

      That’s one part of it. The other part is to understand what situations that would be considered harmless by a normal person can be twisted into something pretty horrible if you are a person who is undesireable. Beware “Trial by Media” in which you are told one half of the story (and even that half looks like it came from Orwell’s Ministry of Information) – the knee jerk belief in everything you’re told by your government is frankly a sign of a weak mind.

      Once the trial starts in November and the publication ban is lifted, you will be very surprised at the actions of a supposed free and democratic government and it’s police force.

  3. Just yesterday, by chance, I finished reading Cory’s “Little Brother” and I’m impressed by how relevant that book’s themes are to Byron Sonne’s story.

    I’m a librarian in rural BC and I think I’m going to print out the Toronto Life article and stick it in the back of Cory’s book…

  4. At our local baseball stadium, they use potato guns to shoot rolled-up t-shirts at the crowd. The horror!

  5. I do wonder if i will see a world war in my lifetime, as the elite of the world is getting paranoid to the extreme.

  6. Apparently the “explosives” charge comes from the presence of acetone and hydrogen peroxide in his house – hardly conclusive evidence that he intended to use them for anything other than their intended purpose.

    What I find truly depressing and infuriating in equal measure is the attitude displayed by a good proportion of the comments on the article, basically saying “He deserves it, what did he expect to happen?”

    1. > the attitude displayed by a good proportion of the
      > comments on the article, basically saying
      > “He deserves it, what did he expect to happen?”

      The Wisdom of the Cowed

    2. What I find truly depressing and infuriating in equal measure is the attitude displayed by a good proportion of the comments on the article, basically saying “He deserves it, what did he expect to happen?”

      Here is my personal favorite:

      Jamiya writes:

      To those calling Sonne a political prisoner who has done nothing wrong, I challenge you to answer this: if the police had let him go and he’d then blown himself up inside or near the security fence, killing world leaders, or if someone who’d read his postings had used that information to disable cameras, breach the security fence and assasinate world leaders, would you still think he had done nothing wrong?

      Jamiya is, of course, absolutely right. Anyone could hypothetically commit a crime while they’re not in prison. There is obviously only one solution. Lock everyone up! I wonder which prison Jamiya would like to be sent to?

      This whole planet is turning into an Orwellian nightmare one attrition of liberty at a time and all some people can get outraged at are the scapegoats. And I can’t even take solace in being American because I know my country is in a neck-and-neck race to the bottom with the whole of Western democracy. Humanity is a bad joke on itself.

      Wait. I take that back. It’s turning into The Dilbert Future!

    3. Let’s not forget that it was shown recently that the US government use fake online identities to influence online forum discussions of sensible subjects.

      Do you really think the Canadian government does not the same ?

  7. from the online article…

    “(Sonne and a friend) have been fascinated by rocketry since childhood, and they agreed to take up amateur rocket building together. Their ultimate goal was to make, from scratch, a rocket with a built-in camera to record the journey as it shot some 6,000 feet into the air. (Sonne’s friend) is an amiable 32-year-old who works in information security. He says it was all for fun, a pastime to share with his son. Sonne and (his friend) began contacting Industry Canada and amateur rocketeering associations to investigate what licences and materials they would need to kick-start their pursuit. Sonne, true to his DIY streak, bought some of the chemicals he’d need to produce solid rocket fuel, but they put the project on hold when an executive from the Canadian Association of Rocketry warned them it was illegal to experiment with the chemicals before they acquired the proper licences.”

  8. At least now, according to, he has been granted bail. If it is true that the explosives charges are based on the presence of acetone and hydrogen peroxide, then I can’t count how many “terrorists” I know. So much nail polish remover, so many first aid kits.

  9. WTF? So he’s been charged with possession of illegal explosives because he has hydrogen peroxide and nail polish remover in his house? You could lock up more than half of Canada if that’s all it took!

  10. The cops are desperate to have something to show for the largest mass arrests in Canadian history – over 1,000 people. So far over 95% of the cases have been dismissed because there was, as the police knew when they made them, no evidence of any crimes. They were simply kidnapping people off the street at random on the Sunday of the G20 weekend.

    The only conviction so far was the guy who, on Saturday a mile or so from the conference centre, set fire to a cruiser (after a 20 minute argument with the surrounding protesters who were against it) and danced drunkenly on the hood: as seen on youTube. Cracking that case was a feat worthy of Hemlock Holmes! There were about 300 mounted police one block south of this but they did nothing as Saturday was the law-free day when they weren’t answering 911 calls. They had more important things to do such as sit on chairs in the convention centre and monitor the whole lot of nothing going on down there. The arrest were a day later and miles from the looting that ensued when people discovered that the city had no police department.

  11. Has anyone tracked down his original posts that got him in trouble? Might be interesting reading.

  12. My question is: will anybody in the Canadian police pay for this?

    In the US, the relevant department would be sued into oblivion. In Europe some token scapegoating would ensue.

    1. No.

      Also there’s a growing untrust of the Canadian police due to the G20, the Robert DziekaÅ„ski Taser incident, Winter Olympics 2010, and much much more.

      Numbers are in the 30% average of recent surveys.

    2. In the US, the relevant department would be sued into oblivion. In Europe some token scapegoating would ensue.

      I guess you haven’t read this:

      What I love is that Sonne’s friends and family are being cautioned by their employers not to associate with him, because Zod forbid they have anything to do with a guy who got locked away for eleven months while being tried over a potato gun, model rockets and an unwelcome security brief.

  13. In the US, the relevant department would be sued into oblivion.

    I’m afraid you live in a better, saner vision of the US than the reality supports. The US Supreme Court has made it clear that we’ll have none of that.

  14. It is more beneficial that many guilty persons should escape unpunished than one innocent person should suffer, because it is of more importance that innocence should be protected than it is that guilt should be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world that all of them cannot be punished, and many times they happen in such a manner that it is not of much consequence to the public whether they are punished or not.

    But when innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, the subject will exclaim, “it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.” And if such a sentiment as this should take place in the mind of a subject there would be an end to all security whatsoever… John Adams

    When innocence is no protection, then you might as well be guilty. You might was well be hung for a wolf as a lamb. The whole world, even Canada and the US, is becoming like this. With even the most minor challenge to authority the ordinary person will find his life ruined. When nonviolent action provokes violent response, you might as well fight to the death as protest a puppet show. This is how people are radicalized.

    Remember Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was an Egyptian doctor who was trying to make political change. After he and 1500 others were arrested and tortured, he was so radicalized he became committed to violence. As were many others.

    In Bahrain doctors have been imprisoned and tortured merely for caring for the wounded in a hospital. Perhaps they will learn they might as well fight to the death. How would the penalty be worse?

    When a computer guy has his life ruined for so little, that tells you how evil the opposition is, how determined they are to limit freedom, even freedom of speech. The message is: You are powerless, you cannot change anything, you are the slave of the plutocracy.

    1. Well said.

      It seems throughout history, the peasants are always revolting

      (so to speak)

      But, things are changing so fast now, and the inequality grows to heretofore unimaginable proportions…

      In France 1789 or Russia 1917. . .the common folk were starving and so crushed under the yoke that only revolution and blood would expiate their misery.

      These days: poor people have more (admittedly bad) calories than they need, at least around here. The huddled masses have cell phones…and those that dare protest the status quo, well. . .you get what we have here.

      Bread and circuses still prove effective. For now.

  15. It’s pretty bad when Canada is portrayed as a draconian state…

    It seems the Western world is working hard to make Iran, Somalia, Sudan, etc. look relatively benign…

  16. One problem with this article is that the cover of the magazine doesn’t match the story inside – the cover does the tabloid rag “Did this man plan to blow up the G20?” trick, implying guilt with a question mark, then the story talks about how he was railroaded.

    It put a pallor over the whole story for me.

    1. The art group does the cover, the journalist has no say. The journalist originally wanted the cover to be a photo of a CuSO4 crystal he grew.

  17. What Sonne did was set out to provoke a response from the security theatre, and they brought the house down. His world was a nice one, where the law was the law and being innocent was protection enough. Down on the street, meanwhile, being innocent is no defense to the full weight of a justice system determined to demonstyrate that their anti-terroism laws are not, in fact, racist and anti-Islam.

    Sonne happens to be the first* white person in Canada to face the laws designed in the hysteria of a post- September 11 world. I doubt that he saw that coming.

    *His estranged wife was the second, and she has been cleared of the charges she faced.

    I refer to the anti-terorrism hysteria, and not the specific anti G20 laws used to confine over 1,000 people for the act of (mostly) peaceful assembly.

  18. The obvious points about the absurdity of the charges and the “logic” of pre-emptive arrest and hypothetical “what-if” scenarios have been made.

    The halfwits that buy in to hypothetical fantasies to rationalize the police state need to be publicly shamed until they’re afraid to open their fool mouths ever again.

    As for the journalist who wrote the quoted article (not Doctorow, you do good work sir)

    I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this sorry excuse for journalism, the only question is whether she’s internalized all this fearmongering war-on-terror crap, or if it’s just the editors playing thought police. Maybe a bit of both.

    The article was 5 pages long and she spent most of it implying that Sonne deserved what he got, or that he might actually be dangerous, presumably because the cops say so because there ain’t any REAL evidence. Truly DISGUSTING!

  19. If anyone at BoingBoing is in the Toronto area, I’d be happy to give them a background into Byron’s story. I’ve been to all of the hearings thus far. What isn’t being said, because of the publication ban, will make what has been told thus far seem down-right sane and reasonable.

    Watch come November. The publication ban will lift and people will get to learn the details. I do expect heads will roll (figuratively speaking! (can’t take chances these days)).

    I can be reached at

    Thanks for taking an interest and helping to get the word out. Byron’s story is one that should simply not be in a democracy.

  20. I can’t comment on the details, but I can say that the Crown Attorney and the Police Officers involved should be charged with Criminal Harassment as soon as Byron is acquitted. If they are not charged with Criminal Harassment, it will be proof that the justice system in Canada needs to be overhauled.

  21. The treatment he got is enough to make me hesitant to post my opinions on this case.

    1. The treatment he got is enough to make me hesitant to post my opinions on this case.

      Then they won, bud.

  22. Nice work authority… you’ve given me more confirmation that sometimes anarchy is the best course of action. Fire creackers and paint in jars… try and put me in jail for possesing those, you assholes.

    Anyone remember Marc Emery? This smacks of his ridiculous treatment. Canada is really taking up the role of baby Amerikkka these days, huh?

    I hope that one day we finally get a psycho who kills people who actually deserve it. Canada’s conservative party seems like a good place to start.

  23. Oh, yeah… I might also add that Canadians are (since failing to vote their bumbling, retarded, repressive governmnet out) now in my list of people whose intelligence I must automatically question.

    I didn’t like “can’t get fooled again” bush, but I was willing to give Americans the benefit of the doubt when it came to voting him in once. Then when he got the second term I lost all respect for Americans. Thank god you put Obama in the captain’s seat last election!

  24. Oh, yeah… I might also add that Canadians are (since failing to vote their bumbling, retarded, repressive governmnet out) now in my list of people whose intelligence I must automatically question.

    The bell curve is in effect always and everywhere. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that where a person is born or lives determines their intelligence.

  25. The guy planted a fake bomb in his high school and deliberately acquired TATP explosives with the intent to draw attention to himself. He will eventually be convicted of his crimes.

  26. @Gulliver 60% of Canadians voted for someone other than the Conservatives. People are profoundly ignorant of most issues because they follow corporately owned media for their information. Endless propaganda touting how good and great we are blinds people to what is actually happening. It is a problem not just in Canada. Fascism is emerging in North America. The worship of authority and widespread fearfulness is a plague on all of us. The fact that such government thuggery could be so publicly displayed and most people’s response is so tepid is depressing. People can live in delusion for a long time but reality makes itself known eventually.

    1. People can live in delusion for a long time but reality makes itself known eventually.

      Inexorably. It makes me sad that Western civilization would throw away the liberty, individual rights and human dignity it’s taken so long and fought so hard to attain. It will make the road to recovery all the longer.

  27. A call to arms! Free speech tools for emerging democracies (and deliquescent ones too!)

    The Byron Sonne case, “lawfull access” canadian bill…

    OK, the game is over: big corporations and the government own the internet (and anything else may we add).

    We must _now_ design, test and deploy control and attack resistant low bandwidth ad hoc wireless wide area networks for protecting (restoring?) free speech, justice and democracy.

    Those tools cans be used in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and .. hmm where else? wink wink..

    Telecom EEs and cypherpunk hackers , where are you?

    PS: 6 millions canadians voted for Harper and 9 millions refused to vote (don’t ask me why). Is this a sound, working democracy? Hurray for First Past the post electoral system!

    PPS: I crossposted this on M.Geist and Jesse Brown SE blogs, sorry…

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