Whoa! Canada

laurel l. russwurm's political musings

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thoughtcrime … in Canada ?

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goat tethered on a hill

Byron Sonne’s trial is proceeding. Yesterday the Crown rested its case. As a citizen of this fair nation, I have some concerns.

Criminal prosecution is quite expensive, yet the Crown spent a fair bit of effort trying to explain Byron’s use of the word “goat” in his various online nick names. In much the same way truck drivers assumed CB radio “handles,” computer users have been adopting nicknames as their personal brands even before the Internet became publicly accessible in the 1990s.

It seems that Byron has quite a collection of pictures of goats on his computer. (It isn’t at all hard to find a picture of a goat on the Internet⇒) The police witness told the court that the acronym “G.O.A.T.” stands for “Greatest Of All Time” made popular by hockey star Wayne Gretsky. The Crown seems to want this on the record as a indication of Byron Sonne’s ego. Even though this explanation is a guess. No credible evidence was presented to explain why Byron’s personal brand is “goat.” The only one who can factually explain the selection of the nick name would be Byron Sonne himself.

Did I miss the part where the Crown presented evidence that Byron was even a hockey fan? (Although the police witness seems to be.)   The Crown suggests this explanation will characterize Byron as an egotistical hacker.  Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I really don’t understand what the point of this is.   If, by some amazing coincidence, the police guess about why Byron chose the word goat was correct, what exactly would it be evidence of?

More disturbing is what appears to be the “guilt by association” vibe promoted by the Crown. Receiving emails or a digital newsletter from people who are later arrested isn’t a criminal offence. Or, if it is, it should not be.

June 2010 poster: Toronto Resist G8/20

Reading, attending meetings and/or talking about political participation, even if such participation is or leads to protest or dissent should not be a criminal offence. Or, if it is, it shouldn’t be. George Orwell called government repression of ideas “thoughtcrime.” Is that what this is?

As far as I know, TCMN (Toronto Community Mobilization Network) is a congregation of a variety of activist groups that came together due to shared concerns about the G20.   Personally, I don’t even live in Toronto, but what I read made me concerned about the G20 even before it happened.

As well as not liking the TCMN, or convicted activists, apparently the Crown also doesn’t like anarchists organizations like SOAR (Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance). As far as I know, it isn’t illegal to be an anarchist.

Just as it isn’t illegal to be a liberal. Or a conservative. Or even a hacker.

Because freedom of association is protected by the Charter.

Reading and thinking aren’t illegal in Canada. There’s even a whole genre called “true crime” but reading about crime doesn’t make you a criminal. Thinking radical thoughts isn’t a crime.

Committing criminal acts is.

Even so, criminal acts are defined by laws. If our lawmakers were to designate walking on the grass a felony, then walking on the grass would become a criminal act. This is one reason why dissent is so important for a free society; citizens need to be able to complain if government passes laws that are contrary to what society holds as acceptable. As well, the practical application of the laws that define and confine us are interpreted and tested out through court cases like this one.

So it’s worrisome to know that Byron’s Charter rights were ignored.

But it is more troubling to me that Canadian law enforcement invested so much in building a case seemingly based on association and innuendo.

Just as it is a concern that law enforcement has such a tenuous grasp of technical issues important to this case.

Judge Spies had never heard of Linux before, yet Crown attempts to dazzle and/or confuse with reams of detail aren’t working; the Judge may not use Twitter, or understand the difference between a .jpg or a .png, but she doesn’t have to — they’re both photographs.

Judge: Let me see if I’ve got this all right. Mr. Sonne is on the mailing list for the TCMN. He gets an email about a presentation where Hiscocks and Henderson were going to speak about “black block or diversity of tactics”. We have no evidence that Mr. Sonne attended or that he associated with these women. Those emails are in, whatever they mean. Now you want me to accept their guilty pleas and use that to infer about the nature of the talk?
Unofficial Byron Sonne Trial Notes

Charter rights are supposed to protect citizens; they should not be so easily cast aside. It is reassuring that although Judge Spies isn’t tech savvy, she appears to see the big picture. Still, the smell of politics is strong in this one, and I don’t know how this will play out, and so I worry about the future. For my family, my community, my country.


Image Credits

Tethered Goat” by ceridwen released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Glossary

The Crown
refers to the Crown Attorney (the title of the government’s lawyer prosecuting the case under Canadian law) and/or the focus of the prosecution in the Canadian legal system.
[“Prosecutor” or “District Attorney” would be the American equivalent]

The Charter
is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is supposed to protect the human rights of Canadian citizens from government or justice system abuses.

Linux
(sometimes called GNU/Linux) is a free software computer operating system (OS), a software program (similar to Windows or MacOS) that allows a computer to function. Although there are basic differences in the way Linux systems operate, many technical people use Linux systems because they are free to customize them.

Hacker
There are two opposing definitions for the word “hacker.” The pejorative definition embraced by the mainstream media is as someone who subverts computer security. Yet for many in the computer security and programming subculture the word hacker is the highest accolade bestowed on verhttps://github.com/colah/ByronTrialNotes/blob/master/daily-notes/day27.mdy clever and often playful innovators and problem solvers. Among such programmers the word “cracker” is used to describe criminals who engage in criminal computer security breaches.

Twitter
an online network that allows two way sharing of information and/or conversation with friends and/or total strangers, best viewed on the Twitter site, not in a proprietary spreadsheet.


Must Listen:
Jesse Brown interviews security expert Dr. Kate Milberry on today’s Search Engine Audio Podcast #130:
The Legacy of the G-20: #Toronto’s #G20 Hangover

Post Script: Today the Crown cross examined the Defence witness. The evidence phase is over and court will resume Thursday at 10:30, 361 University Avenue, Toronto. Today’s Trial Notes are online.

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