Yesterday, Byron Sonne was acquitted of all charges against him. Sonne is the Toronto-area security researcher who pointedly demonstrated the inadequacy and incoherence of the heavy-handed, $1.2B security arrangements for the G20 summit in 2010. Denise Balkissoon has done some of the best reporting on the bizarre trial that followed (after Sonne spent nearly a year in jail), and now she's got good commentary on the acquittal:
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“Byron Sonne, you’re a free man,” said one of his lawyers, Joe DiLuca, as Sonne stood outside the courthouse.
“I can be a moron again on the internet,” Sonne said, as he ripped up court documents that listed the bail conditions—including a curfew and not using a cellphone—that he has lived with since May 2011...
Later on the day of the verdict, in Kensington Market, Sonne stood having a cigarette and discussing Anonymous and Gandhi with Alex Hundert, who pled guilty to counselling to commit mischief during the G20. “They took a somewhat radical person like me and said, ‘Let’s put the guy in jail with real radicals,'” said Sonne, who was not involved with organized activists in advance of the summit. “I’m not interested in playing by the rules anymore.”
Sonne said he intends to help non-technologically savvy activists learn to encrypt their computers and online communications. Police were unable to unencrypt one of Sonne’s hard drives, which led the Crown to argue that it must contain nefarious plans. “There’s nothing on there that wasn’t on my other computers,” said Sonne, who said he encrypted it for travelling over the U.S.
Twitter's #freebyron hashtag is alive with the news that Byron Sonne, the Toronto-area security expert who was incarcerated and treated as a terrorist for pointing out and making fun of the security flaws in the $1.2B security scheme for the Toronto G20 summit, has been found Not Guilty on all counts.
A moment of sanity from the Canadian judicial system, and all it cost was Sonne's marriage, house, and freedom.
Here's our earlier Sonne pieces.
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Denise Balkissoon reports on a new twist in the trial of Byron Sonne, the Toronto security researcher who's been trapped in a kafkaesque nightmare ever since he was arrested on a raft of stupid "terrorism"-charges related to his efforts to point out that the billion-plus-dollar G20 security emperor had no clothes. Denise writes:
Byron Sonne (G20 Hacker) case got reopened for 60 minutes this week, so the Crown could terrify us with the knowledge that he had more potassium chlorate than they thought. It was dug up out of his old backyard during a media circus last week. They said they were going to explode it, but it didn't explode, so instead they made a boring fire.
Crown Attorney petitions to re-open Byron Sonne trial
(Image: cropped, downsized thumbnail from a larger image by Tyler Anderson/National Post)
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Denise Balkissoon writes, "This is the last week of the trial of Byron Sonne, computer security consultant charged with explosives after the G20. This week, his defence called Fryderyk Supinski, who was a member of a hackerspace with Sonne. The two had planned on building model rockets together. Sonne is charged with four counts of possessing explosives. His defence is that he had the stuff to make rocket fuel. The Crown says that was a ruse."
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Sonne is charged with four counts of possessing explosive materials, which the Crown Attorney contends he was going to use to make the explosives TATP, HMTD, HDN and ANFO. On the witness stand, Supinski spoke about Sonne’s various scientific hobbies, including one that the two planned to take up together—building high-powered model rockets. The defence contends that many of the chemicals in Sonne’s home were purchased with rocket fuel in mind, and that Sonne stopped his experiments with them when he realized he first needed government certification.
Both Sonne’s defence lawyers and Crown Attorney Elizabeth Nadeau zeroed in on logs of chats from May 2010 that Sonne and Supinski had on the internet relay channel maintained by Hacklab. In one, Supinski warned Sonne of the dangers of explosions when experimenting with engines. “Yep, that’s why I’m going so slow,” Sonne had replied.
Nadeau made much out of Sonne’s discussions about explosions in the public chat room. Sonne and other chatters shared videos of explosions at industrial plants—“around 35 there’s a great shot of workers in a nearby business catching the shockwave,” wrote Sonne about one—and Sonne linked to a clip from David Cronenberg’s Scanners, a science fiction with a famous exploding head scene.
Denise sez, "Update on the trial of Byron Sonne, arrested in Toronto on explosives charges in advance of the G20 in June, 2010. This week, the Crown pulled up information off of Sonne's harddrives, including tweets from Clay Shirky and Oxblood Ruffin, 50-year-old U.S. military manuals and photos of goats. Much time was spent discussing why Sonne used a goat as his username/avatar."
On Monday, Nadeau also pressed Ouelette for his personal understanding of why there were photos of goats (one labeled “drunk goat”) on Sonne’s hard drive, and why the accused had used “Goatmaster” and “Toronto Goat” as his online usernames. Peter Copeland, one of Sonne’s lawyers, objected, saying that Ouelette wasn’t an expert on acronyms. Spies decided to hear the argument as “voir dire,” meaning she will decide later if it’s admissible as evidence. So, Ouelette opined that “Goat,” stood for “Greatest of All Time,” based on his knowledge of hockey, nicknames, and Wayne Gretzky.
Read more about Sonne's kafkaesque encounter with Canadian law.
Miles to go: Byron Sonne trial Continues (Thanks, Denise!)
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The strange, farcical trial of Byron Sonne continues (here are earlier installments). Sonne is a Toronto hacker and security researcher who was arrested during the G20, with much attendant press about the "fact" that he had been planning to make bombs in connection with the event.
Sonne was left in jail for nearly a year before his hearings began, and his charges were recharacterised as "possessing explosive materials" and "counseling the indictable offense of mischief not committed."
Now the "explosive materials" question is being addressed in court. Sonne had a lab in his basement, and he was a gardener. He possessed many substances that a "bomb expert" from Defence Research and Development Canada called "precursors" to making explosives. They are also normal gardening substances, and/or the sort of thing that a model rocketry hobbyist (as Sonne was -- he'd been a member of the Canadian Association of Rocketry) would keep in neatly labelled vessels in his basement.
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No one disputes that Sonne had a lab in his basement, stocked with glassware and neatly labelled containers (see photos here). There was potassium permanganate, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, iron oxide and zinc oxide. There was stearine, copper sulfate, urea, hydrogen peroxide and aluminum powder, as well as dextrin, sulfamic acid, hexachloroethane, charcoal, potassium silicate and sodium bicarbonate. Sonne had plastic bags full of wax shavings and PVC shavings, and a container of hexamine tablets next to his camp stove. There was acetone, methyl hydrate and hydrochloric acid in his garage. In his furnace room, he had an electrochemical setup where he seemed to be turning potassium chloride into potassium chlorate, a shiny white crystal that is, Anderson said, a well-known ingredient in improvised explosives like TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamlene).
Here's a video of the interrogation of Byron Sonne (more on his case here) by Officer Tam Bui. Sonne is a Toronto hacker who was offended by the security theater associated with the Toronto G20, which involved $1.2 billion worth of "security" measures and thousands of illegal arrests and unprovoked beatings. Sonne is finally on trial, and this footage was released as part of the trial. In it, the officer spends an hour trying to get Sonne to admit to some "sinister plot" by telling him that his wife has been arrested and will not get bail if he isn't more forthcoming (Sonne and his wife later divorced).
VIDEO: How Byron Sonne Blinded Us With Science
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Denise Balkissoon continues her excellent coverage of the trial of Byron Sonne, the Toronto security researcher who was arrested and prosecuted (persecuted, even) after publishing material about the security theater entailed by the G20's $1.2B, draconian policing plan. As Sonne's trial progresses, the absurdity of the case against him becomes clearer and clearer.
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For those interested in the spirit of the law, the trial ranges from farcical to frustrating. Section 11 of the Charter guarantees the right to a speedy trial, and it’s already been 18 months since Sonne was first arrested. On November 17, Crown Attorney Elizabeth Nadeau requested permission to re-interview an explosions expert from Defence Research and Development Canada who testified during the preliminary trial in February. Nadeau wanted to ask questions about Sonne’s model rocketry hobby, based on a piece in Toronto Life (full disclosure: written by this same reporter). Spies became annoyed, asking why the Crown was mentioning this now when the article was published in the spring. She then sighed and began looking at her calendar. The criminal trial could be delayed until February, possibly later.
That model rocketry might explain the chemicals in Sonne’s house isn’t a new idea to the Crown: it’s what Sonne has been saying ever since his arrest. Most of the week was spent discussing when the accused first spoke with his lawyer. On the stand this past week, a number of police officers testified that Sonne was denied a phone call for hours because they didn’t want him to call an accomplice who would set off an explosion.
Back in May, I linked to the perverse tale of Byron Sonne, a Toronto hacker and security researcher who was caught up in the G20 dragnet, part of the overall campaign of illegal harassment, arrest and violence against protesters in the city.
Sonne's trial is underway now, and Denise Balkissoon is covering it in depth for OpenFile.ca. Balkissoon's coverage cuts through the legal complexities and tedium and gets right to the point, and is as good as courtroom reporting gets.
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This week, the Crown conceded that Toronto Police used a ruse in order to get Byron Sonne to hand over his ID on June 15, 2010. Sonne—otherwise known as the G20 Hacker, or the Anarchist of Forest Hill—had been filming the $9.4 million security fence that went up before the international summit. A security guard called the police, and three officers stopped Sonne as he walked along Temperance St.
One asked for his identification. Sonne refused, stating that he knew it was his right not to identify himself unless he was being detained for a specific crime. So, bicycle officer Michael Wong told Sonne that he was being investigated for jaywalking under the Highway Traffic Act. “This was simply a ruse employed to obtain the Applicant’s identification,” reads the statement of fact submitted by the Crown Attorney. “It worked.”
In Sonne’s preliminary trial last winter, all three officers agreed that none of them had actually seen him cross the street illegally. On November 10, Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies decided this ruse meant Sonne was unlawfully detained, and that his rights were violated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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. Read the rest