The Rise of the Canadian Surveillance State

I’ve been trying to put my thoughts about the Ottawa shootings down, and then I happened upon Russell Brand’s energetic assessment, not only of the situation, but how it is being spun.  Yes, it is terrible that a soldier died.  And that another soldier died in a completely unrelated incident earlier. But there is no question in my mind that the murders of these two men is being “spun.”

Canadian Civil Rights

The personal privacy of Canadians is supposed to be protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Maybe it was true once, but it doesn’t seem very true now.  And yet we value our Charter highly.

“The consultation also asked which of Canada’s accomplishments of the last 150 years “make you most proud to be a Canadian?”

Medicare topped that list, followed by peacekeeping, then the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms at No. 3.”

— Harper government poll for Canada’s 150th birthday cites Liberal, NDP icons


Security professional Byron Sonne was arrested before the G20 Summit, an event on which the Canadian government lavished a great deal of money on security.   Byron was concerned about the implications of the introduction of an influx of a host of new CCTV cameras in downtown Toronto,  so he took a look at the security being provided by his tax dollars (and yours).   Apparently citizens were supposed to keep their eyes closed.  Police violated Byron’s Charter rights; he was arrested and punitively denied bail for almost a year.  When he was finally released into his parents’ custody for almost another year, the draconian bail conditions obliged his parents to waive their own Charter privacy rights.

Byron lost his home, his business and his wife; and yet he was finally exonerated because, as hard as the authorities looked, there was no credible evidence.  At one of the court proceedings I attended, a law enforcement expert witness explained that their inability to break the encryption on one of Byron’s computers meant that even if acquitted, Byron would always be considered a person of interest.

The back entrance, steps away from where the Occupy Toronto protesters were brutalized by the police


Apparently these days, Canadians are guilty until proven innocent.

And the G20 Summit? Well, that event was marked by a great deal of violence… but not violence perpetrated by peaceful protesters, this was violence perpetrated by the “security forces” against citizens, as citizen journalists posted masses of video of such incidents to YouTube.  There were so many unlawful arrests and Charter violations that a great many voices called for a proper inquiry… which never actually happened.   The government didn’t want to be bothered investigating abuses it was responsible for. Funny that.

(I kind of think Byron was held for so long because they needed a “bad guy” in jail to justify the ridiculous amount of tax dollars spent, and hopefully distract from the civil rights abuses…)

Julian Ichim carries a red flag at one of the Kitchener "Casseroles" protests in support of Quebec students.
Julian Ichim in solidarity with the Quebec student protest, at “Kitchener Casseroles”

Canadian tax dollars paid for a whole year of an undercover officer’s infiltration of poverty activist Julian Ichims life.

Even after they were unable to prove any wrong doing against him, (Julian is, after all, an activist, not a criminal), absent evidence the undercover agent tried to convict Mr. Ichim with character assassination and innuendo.  No matter what you think about Mr. Ichim and his methods, there is no question he is sincere.  And yet, law enforcement agencies continue to harass and try to intimidate the young man.

In well over a decade of activism, working in the trenches to fight poverty and injustice in constructive ways, it seems the only “violent” act Mr. Ichim has ever performed was the act of throwing milk at politician Stockwell Day in his student days.   And yet law enforcement considers him a threat.

You should really listen to this CBC radio interview (including the bits that come after Mr. Ichim) to gain some insight into The ethics of police infiltration

Omar Khadr‘s rights are still being denied. As a child put in harm’s way by a parent, maybe he was a child soldier, or maybe he was an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time; but either way he was a victim who should have been treated better.  This 15 year old child certainly should not have been abandoned by the Canadian authorities after being dug out of the rubble nearly dead; nor should he have been delivered to the infamous Bagram then tortured and left to languish at Guantanamo Bay for years where he was convicted in what can only be described as a travesty of “justice.”  Even back in Canada this young man is still being victimized.  What happened to his Charter rights?

The Canadian Government, our government, has been chipping away at our civil rights since 9-11.  Since we are now apparently all guilty until proven innocent, our “security services” are investigating all of us all of the time… okay, our Charter Rights aren’t being chipped away, they are being steam rollered and dismantled.

Julian Ichim in the Kitchener Casseroles parade

The awesome powers of the state are being deployed, not against terrorists, but against activists trying to make Canada a better place, which often means disagreeing with government policy.  But peaceful protest and dissent are considered to be crucial elements of democracy, which is why these activities are enshrined in the Charter.

“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. Here are some protections that the Charter guarantees:

  • freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly
  • the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government
  • the freedom to move around and live within Canada, and to leave Canada
  • legal rights such as the right to life, liberty and security
  • equality rights
  • language rights”

— Our Country, Our Parliament (government publication)

How many of our Charter Rights have been violated in my examples?  I am not a civil rights lawyer, I’m a suburban mom who writes novels– how do I know about these things?   The Internet has made “citizen journalism” possible, so we are no longer limited to knowing what the mainstream “news media” decides we should know.   And the mainstream media has been so quiet about these issues that I’m inclined to agree with Glenn Greenwald’s assertion that our “news media” mostly functions as the propaganda arm of our government.

The examples I have cited do not exist in a vacuum; they are the result of government policy.

What it boils down to is that the government tells us they need to take away our rights, to limit them in the name of security.  To fight terrorism.  There is credible evidence to suggest law enforcement has been engaging in mass surveillance.

And yet this has done nothing to stop terrorism.

Civil Rights exist to protect citizens.  Removing or suppressing them doesn’t make us safe, it makes us unsafe.

It used to be that agents of law enforcement agents were not given permission to wiretap citizens, or to search people’s homes, or seize their goods without a warrant.  A judge had to be convinced of a reasonable probability — “probable cause” — that there was credible evidence to suggest the subject of the warrant was engaged in criminal activity.  There had to be good reason to invade anyone’s privacy.

Certainly, there would be some judges more inclined to sympathize with law enforcement agents than others, but even they wouldn’t sign warrants that could be ruled unconstitutional by higher courts.  This system wasn’t perfect, but it struck a reasonable balance between the needs of the state to be secure and the needs of the citizens to not be harassed.   Because such laws were in place to protect citizens, when an abuse did happen, the citizen had legal grounds for redress against state harassment (or worse).

Lawful Access quashes our civil rights

Since 9-11 the Canadian Government has been trying to pass “Lawful Access” legislation.  This would allow the government to spy on Canadian citizens all the time for no reason, with no judicial oversight.

This would be a huge blow to our Charter Rights that protect citizens from abuse by the power of the state.

Initially Canadians were protected from such legislation by a string of minority governments, which is about as close to democracy as we can get under our unfair electoral system.  In a minority, no party can unilaterally impose laws; laws can be passed without achieving enough consensus.   Back then I think the alarm was raised by lawyers who understood what was being proposed.  The unease spread through the tech communities, because people who understood how computers and the Internet worked could better understand how this technology could be made to work against personal freedom.  By the time Vic Toews tried to sell the idea that government spying was a good thing, enough ordinary citizens had twigged to the problem to mount the #tellviceverything Twitter campaign. There was too much bad publicity; the Minister, and indeed the government looked ridiculous.  So they backed down.

But they didn’t stop trying, because the legal authority to spy on all the citizens all the time is very powerful indeed. The most recent attempt has been Bill C-13, in which lawful access (aka unfettered spying on citizens) was dressed up as an anti-bullying measure inspired by the Amanda Todd tragedy.

Elizabeth May spoke eloquently against C13, as did Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, who said:

“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety.  We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, ‘sextortion’ and revenge pornography.”

— Carol Todd, Amanda Todd’s mother raises concerns about cyberbullying bill

And, of course, Bill C-13 does in no way limit its invasion of privacy to children, or cyber bullies.  In the light of the Snowden revelations, the pressure on the Harper Government to get this law passed (to make all the illegal spying on citizens that CSIS and CSEC seem to engage in, alone and/or in conjunction with Five Eyes partner agencies) must have been enormous.

Something no one ever seems to consider is that, even in the unlikely event that our government would not abuse such powers, how do we know that faceless government agents with lawful access to the recordings they make of so many aspects of our intimate personal lives— how do we know that agents with the right to spy on us and our children are not themselves voyeurs, pornographers and pedophiles?

The University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist discussed inadequacies in Bill C13 before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, concluding that:

“This kind of privacy harm can victimize anyone. We know that information from at least 750,000 Canadian user accounts are voluntarily disclosed every year.  It is why we need to ensure that the law has appropriate safeguards against misuse of our personal information and why C-13 should be amended. I’ll stop there and welcome your questions.”

— Michael Geist, The Trouble With Bill C-13: My Appearance before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

But now, under cover of the alleged “terrorist acts” of the last few days, Mr. Harper’s government seems to have quietly passed this most controversial of laws, which shreds much of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Canadians depend on.  According to the government website it may still need one more Senate vote before getting the Assent that will make it the law of the land.

Will this make Canadians more safe?

Without consulting with Canadians, our government squandered vast sums of money to build and equip the most expensive Canadian building in history to spy on us all the time.  In spite of this, our security forces were caught flat footed by the Ottawa shooting.

In the old days, when Canadian civil rights ensured law enforcement agents had to provide reasonable grounds before a court would issue a warrant to violate anyone’s rights– they did a better job of providing national security. Instead of catching terrorists, the Harper Government is busy watching the birdwatchers who dare speak against current environmental policy.  This doesn’t make Canada safe.

Nor will misidentifying disturbed individuals who “go postal” as “terrorists” keep Canadians safe.   Addressing the root causes– making the appropriate medical help available to disturbed individuals, for instance, would do much much more to keep Canadians safe.

SWAT teams shouldn’t break into the homes of law abiding families enjoying Sunday dinner.  It was acceptable and legal in Nazi Germany, but should it really be legal in Canada?

Spying on citizens was legal and accepted in Russia when the Tsar’s security forces did it.  Oddly enough, it didn’t keep the Tsar and his family safe.

Later, it was still legal in the Soviet Union when the KGB did it.  Material collected by such surveillance could lead to an ominous knock on the door in the middle of the night.  People who dared express concern or disagreement with State policy were often dragged from their beds and whisked away to the Gulag for “preventative detention.”  Not because they had done anything illegal, but because somebody decided that they might.  Citizens were guilty until proven innocent, rather like medieval laws that put accused witches on trial by being tied to a chair and dropped in the lake– if she floated, she was a witch (who could then be burned at the stake) but if she sank and drowned she was proven innocent.    Do we really want laws like this?  In Canada?

And, of course, as Glen Greenwald has pointed out:

“It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Canada’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.”


And now that the Lawful Access bill has been passed by the House of Commons, the Conservative dominated Senate is the only thing standing in its way.  Will it legitimize the government’s ability to spy on us all, all the time? .

And you know how the story goes, if you give a mouse a cookie…   Apparently it works the same way for governments.  Lawful Access is the foundation, but even that is not enough.

Mr. Harper envisions curtailing our rights even more.  He is considering laws of ‘preventative detention‘ in wake of Ottawa attack.

Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons that laws and police powers would “need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest.” He pledged to bring forward legislation in an expedited fashion.”

Huffington Post: Tories Reject Call For All-Party National Security Oversight Committee

My maternal grandparents escaped from Russia before the Iron Curtain slammed down.  I’d always been grateful for their foresight in relocating to a better place.  Movies like Gorky Park, or The Lives of Others have made me appreciate how important this was.  And now it seems it was all for nought.

Isn’t the purpose of terrorism is to spread terror?  Although there seems to be international disagreement on what terrorism actually is, the United nations seems to agree with me:

“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60,”Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, December 9, 1994

Of course, when governments engage in criminal acts, all they need to do is change the laws to make it legal.

The news media is whipping up fear because it supports the status quo.  And it certainly seems as though our “watchdog press” has risen from the dead to become the propaganda arm of our government.

If the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize a population, oddly enough, our government and news media seem to be doing this far more successfully than anyone committing criminal acts.

But they are doing it because it is to their advantage to do it.

Not to keep us safe.

The text of Elizabeth May’s C-13 comments in Parliament can be found here.


Free The Press Canada: Government Passes Anti-Constitutional Surveillance Law During Ottawa Shooting

The Huffington Post: Glenn Greenwald Predicts Security Crackdown, More Canadian Secrecy

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Waiting for a verdict

The back entrance, steps away from where the Occupy Toronto protesters were brutalized by the police

I hadn’t planned on blogging about Byron Sonne again until after Judge Nancy Spies gave a verdict. I thought I’d just check the #freeByron hashtag today to find out the status of the verdict. Still scheduled for tomorrow at 10:00 am Ontario Superior Court (361 University Ave., Toronto)

I’m actually hopeful, because Judge Spies seems to be a very good judge. Although she wasn’t particularly conversant with the technology involved with Byron’s case, she has clearly made it her business to come to terms with it. Even better, she has clearly not accepted everything the Crown Attorney has put forth as gospel. I’ve come to that conclusion from out here in the cheap seats because she’s been asking good questions.

A few days after the court had adjourned for the Judge’s deliberations, the Toronto Police staged an absurd production of security theatre. News reports indicated that Detective Bui was instrumental in the latest mammoth waste of taxpayer dollars, wherein:

As Mostly Water points out in Tickling the Dragon: Byron Sonne and the Crown’s Prosecution:

The question is: why did police wait so long to excavate the backyard? They had the chat log evidence that they used to justify the search in their possession for years. It is suspicious timing that the chat ‘came to their attention’ only after the trial was done and the judge was deliberating.

The role of the Defence is to obtain the best possible outcome for the defendant. Although ours is an adversarial system, the Crown’s role is not to win at any cost, but to obtain the best possible outcome for the public good. The Crown’s duty is to safeguard the public, which means allowing the innocent to walk free. The presumption of innocence means that the Crown must prove the guilt of the accused.

And I don’t think they did that. Not even close.

The defence case provided far more than reasonable doubt. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I think the reason for staging the security theatre was an attempt to muddy the water because the Crown doesn’t actually have a case.

In a perfect world, the justice system should seek justice. But in the real world, egos and reputation are part of the mix. Perhaps Detective Bui thought injecting a little drama might increase public fear and pressure the judge into convicting Byron in spite of his innocence. In practice the publicity stunt may have backfired since the judge seemed singularly unimpressed.


The entire case has had surreal elements. As far back as 2008, comic novelist Janet Evanovich knew a potato gun wasn’t a serious weapon, but in Canada a potato gun resulted in a weapons charge against Byron.   The Internet isn’t some mystical place, but part of the real world. The rules of hearsay must apply to conversation on Twitter the same way they apply to people having a face to face verbal conversation.


A great deal of the morass of “circumstantial evidence” that Crown Attorney Elizabeth Nadeau offered the court was meaningless. It was almost painful listening to discussion of every digital photograph, every file, every bookmark. In short, every scrap of Byron Sonne’s digital life that was found on his computer. I expect that there would be more chance of finding evidence of wrong doing on the average teenager’s computer.

There has been speculation suggesting Byron’s denial of bail and subsequent incarceration for nearly a year was purely political. But I have to wonder, how much of the whole fiasco is because Detective Bui is determined to come out of it a hero rather than a heel? And how much is because the Crown Attorney simply doesn’t understand that explosions are neat?

thoughtcrime … in Canada ?

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)


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.

(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.

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 ver 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.

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.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Byron Sonne and… Copyright?

Byron Sonne’s trial resumed today. Without being there, I can only rely on the reports of others.  I wasn’t going to write anything about this today, but I couldn’t believe the National Post’s attempt to spin the story with a headline:

Accused G20 plotter Byron Sonne had training manual for activists,’ court hears

Free Byron

The word “plotter” does not appear once in the Criminal Code of Canada  so there is little doubt in my mind that the use of such a pejorative word is a clear indication of the newspaper publisher’s bias.

What was most disturbing to me is that the gist of the article seemed to be that Byron “had uploaded a document called Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists. ” Curious, the first thing I did was type the title in a google search.   In seconds Google presented me with “51,900 results.”  So naturally I clicked on the first one and downloaded the linked PDF file.

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists

Your Rights

INVESTIGATORS. You do not have to talk to them on
the street, if you’ve been arrested, or even if you’re in
jail. Do not talk about illegal actions with fellow “in-
mates” in holding as they may be plants.

to see the warrant. It must specificallydescribe the
place to be searched and things to be seized. It must
be authorized by a judge and should bear a signature.

Carefully observe the officers; you’re in your own
home you’re not required to stay in one room. You
should take written notes of what they do, their
names, badge numbers, and what agency they’re
from. Have friends who are present act as witnesses.
It’s risky to let cops roam around alone in your place.

JUST SAY NO. The police are very skilled at getting
information from people, so attempting to outwit them
is very risky. You can never tell how a seemingly
harmless bit of information can hurt you or someone

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists, Third edition – prepared November 2001

Call me crazy, but I read the same sort of thing on Boing Boing not so long ago. And yesterday I found a video produced by The Centre for Police Accountability (C4PA) where Toronto lawyer Davin Charney explains much the same thing.

These are all explanations of our Canadian civil rights — rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The thing that bothers me most about the National Post article is the implication that this is a dangerous document. That there is something unsavory about citizens knowing what our right are. Now that scares me.

“If we don’t assert our rights there’s really no point in having rights.”

Davin Charney, Know Your Rights: Do you have to show ID to the police?

The other thing I’ve read are today’s trial notes taken by Byron’s friend Christopher Olah. Reading this is far more illuminating than the “professional” reporting in the National Post.

The police evidence is that Byron uploaded a file called “Security Culture: a handbook for activists,” but as it turns out, no one actually downloaded this (or any of the other files?) Byron is said to have uploaded to torrent sites.

Yet it is ridiculously easy to change a digital file name. Any can save a document and call it anything.

Even had this been a dangerous file, if the police didn’t actually download it, the only thing this “evidence” shows is that Byron uploaded digital files with these names. There is no evidence that the files actually contained the named documents — they could as easily contain love poetry for all anyone knows.

Which means that this “evidence” is supposition, not fact. But it gets worse…


copyright symbol over a red maple leaf

Apparently the prosecution offered the explanation that they could not download the document because doing so  would be copyright infringement.

Um.  Where did they get that idea?

I looked very closely at the Security Culture: a handbook for activists PDF document I just downloaded and nowhere is there anything resembling a copyright declaration.  There is no copyright ©.

This “handbook” is clearly a collaborative effort that various people and organizations have worked on over time.  If anyone involved in the creation of the thing  had given any thought to copyright, it would likely have been to give it a creative commons license, or even more probably released it directly into the public domain.  That’s what you do when you want to disseminate something widely.  Copyright prevents sharing.

But really, even if the document was in fact “protected” by copyright, this is one of the lamest excuses I have ever heard.

When the police bust criminals, they must gather evidence.  If they apprehend alleged drug dealers, they collect illegal drugs they find. If the police arrest suspected gun runners, they take possession of the guns.  And these are both examples of breaches of criminal law. But for sections 42 and 43 of the Copyright Act (which deal primarily with commercial copyright infringement), the Copyright Act is still primarily civil law.  There are fair dealing exemptions under Canadian law that allow copying of copyright material.  It is absurd to think that downloading material that may be covered by copyright in the course of evidence gathering is going to be considered infringement, any more than gathering up baggies of cocaine at a crack house are considered criminal “possession.” This is evidence gathering.

Torrents are not Illegal

The other thing that strikes me is the implication that uploading material to torrent sites is illegal. Nothing could be further from the truth.   Bit Torrent is a way of allowing very efficient use of internet bandwidth to share files.   There is all sorts of legal sharing done via torrent sites, from movies (Sita Sings The Blues or Die Beauty), to free software (Ubuntu, Open Office, Firefox) to eBooks (Project Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg Canada) and our very own Pirate Party of Canada, which established its very own “Pirate Tracker” to legally distribute freely licensed independent Canadian music via torrents.

[*note: edited 20 March, 2012 for factual clarification …thanks Russell!]

Of Masks and Freedom

child in Zorro costume outside theatre
Arrested for wearing a mask?

As a child, I spent many an hour watching shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Zorro” with my dad. My father made sure we were all grounded in super hero lore, where you will find ample justification for secret identities.

When I progressed from comics to real books I continued on in the same vein, reading the Scarlet Pimpernel books when I could get hold of them in high school. Maybe that’s why I have never questioned the validity of the idea that anonymity is so important for freedom.

Anonymity offers protection; we can say what needs to be said Without anonymity, fear of repercussion can silence the truth. Without a shield of anonymity, people must first weigh the harm speaking out can cause themselves and their families. For many the risk is too great.

It is the goal of repressive government to silence dissent, but it is positively disturbing to find this in our democratic governments.

Whistle blowing is an act of valour undertaken for the public good. Yet today we see Bradley Manning incarcerated and WikiLeaks under unremitting attack from nations that used to trumpet freedom.

Byron Sonne

Yellow Square bearing the words Free Byron in black text

Meanwhile, in Canada, our own Byron Sonne goes to court again this week. Byron was the Toronto G20 protester arrested before the G20, and held without bail for nearly a year.

In case you’re new to Byron’s story, he was a young man who had everything: a beautiful wife, a beautiful home, and a challenging security business. He lost all those things, along with his liberty for nearly a year, because he chose to protest the G20. Byron is fortunate, however, because he hasn’t lost everything, he still has the trust and strong support of his friends and family. The crown has dropped almost all the charges against him. Yet although the remaining charges appear dubious, they keep the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, with the possibility of possible further incarceration. As well the charges provide the basis for keeping Byron restrained under onerous bail conditions which compromise Byron’s ability to work in his chosen profession to earn needed funds to pay for his defence, among other things. And making things harder still, PayPal summarily closed Byron’s donation account, but it is still possible to make donations.

Byron Sonne did not wear a mask. He went about his business openly, broadcasting words and images on publicly accessible Internet venues like Flickr and Twitter. I very much doubt Byron was trying to hide his identity online; he certainly had the technical expertise to do so had that been his intent. He wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the computer security business without the ability to cover his digital tracks online. I believe that it is telling that he made no real effort to do so.

The way our legal system has dealt with Byron Sonne raises disturbing questions:

  • Is justice blind, or are some Canadian citizens treated differently under the law?
  • Are Canadian citizens allowed to question what our government does?
  • Are we allowed to observe the actions our government and its representatives?
  • If we take photographs of police will we be arrested?
  • Are citizens allowed anonymity or can we be compelled to provide identity papers without cause?
  • Are we allowed to hold our government accountable?
  • Do citizens still have any civil liberties?
  • Are Canadians even allowed to discuss such things?

wooden African mask


In Canada Private Member’s Bill 309 seeks to criminalize the act of covering your face. There are many legitimate reasons to cover a human face. Hallowe’en masks are common today, but human beings have found cause to wear masks much longer, over centuries, religions and cultures.

Sometimes actors wear masks.

Allergy sufferers often wear masks to protect themselves from airborne allergens.

There are many cultures and religions requiring the covering of various parts of the human head.

Let us not forget, this is Canada. Many Canadians have had cause to wear hoods, hats and scarves to protect our heads from the elements.

All of these are excellent reasons for this Private Member’s bill to fail. After all, how often do Private Member’s Bill’s get passed, anyway? But Canada currently has a majority government, so it is very likely that this law will be passed.

If the wearing of a mask ~ or more telling, the covering of a face ~ in itself becomes a crime, it will be a horrendous blow to free speech in Canada. Some might feel that this law isn’t so bad, because Bill 309 would only make it illegal in certain circumstances. Except that the definition is broad enough it can be applied to any circumstance.

And the government gets to decide. The result of such legislation will make it far more dangerous for citizens to attend any sort of political protest at all. Even if you attend a peaceful protest without wearing a mask, things might get out of hand. You might not even be attending such a protest, but walking along the public streets minding your own business, yet may find yourself swept up and kettled by the police. This happened to many uninvolved Toronto residents during the G20.

If Bill 309 becomes law, the simple act of covering your face with your sleeve against tear gas in the air could lead to criminal charges.

Ironically there have been far too many instances of police officers removing their badges – and thus, choosing anonymity – prior to exceeding the scope of their legal authority and behaving in a criminal manner. Yet this far more dangerous behaviour (and evidence of premeditation)  has resulted in little if any repercussion and is not covered in this bill.

It isn’t possible to have a healthy democracy unless citizens have the right to free speech and peaceful protest.

gold masks from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

we don’t like thinking of Canada as a police state…

police car traffic stop at night
What’s happening to Byron Sonne right now in the halls of Canadian justice is not, unfortunately, happening in a vacuum.

The aftermath of the Toronto G20 police repression, including mass arrests, and citizens placed under restrictive bail conditions including prevention of free speech are continuing cause for concern.

The recent “Occupy” protests across Canada have met with rough treatment by police.

Guelph poverty activist Julian Ichim, after being intensely investigated and charged prior to the Toronto G20, has had the charges against him dropped. Yet on the second day of his new blog, he was told by police to remove a blog post. Ichim protested, now the court has ordered him to remove the name – which isn’t even the real name, but the psuedonym – of the undercover police officer who insinuated himself into Mr. Ichim’s friendship, and spent a year and a half trying to get evidence, but the best he could do was call Julian Ichim a sociopath in court. Apparently it doesn’t matter that what Julian Ichim writes in his blog is true, it is illegal to expose an undercover RCMP officer or any security agency, which I learned from Joe Bowser’s stunning presentation Counselling Mischief as Thought Crime – CCCamp 2011

Media Coop Occupy offers Canadians the opportunity to Download the G20 Papers received through Freedom of Information requests.

Whatever happened to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

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The Canadian Charter: Why is Byron Sonne so important?

Free Byron

Byron Sonne’s case has finally come to trial. Because it is not a jury trial, concerns that the media could misrepresent the facts of the case and taint a jury no longer apply, so there is no publication ban for the proceedings,  although evidence given under the preliminary hearing is still covered under the publication ban.

We are into the fourth week of Byron Sonne’s trial.   Video of two of Byron’s interrogations have been released, giving Canadians a chilling look at how the law can work in Canada.  Jesse Brown looks at the interview process to help us understand what is happening here.   This trial will clearly go on much longer.

The first week of the trial saw Charter arguments from the defense. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the legislation that guarantees Canadian civil rights.

1. Arrest Warrant

National Post:

“Mr. Sonne, a Forest Hill security professional arrested days before the 2010 world leaders’ conference, stands charged with possessing explosive substances and counselling others to commit mischief. The Crown’s case is based on the premise that the accused was targeting the G20 summit, while supporters argue Mr. Sonne — who meticulously documented security measures and mused online about how to subvert them — was merely exploring the limits of summit surveillance.”

“The defence alleges the first Charter violations occurred when Mr. Sonne was arbitrarily detained and questioned by police in the financial district about a week before the G20, after he was seen photographing the expansive security perimeter.”

“While the accused initially refused to produce identification, “the officers threatened him with a provincial offence [jaywalking] as a ruse to compel him to identify himself,” the defence factum noted.”

— Megan O’Toole, National Post, Police violated rights of man accused of plotting G20 attack, trial hears

Possibly the single most shocking thing to me, personally, was the newspaper reportage. Regardless of political stripe, every one seemed equally concerned with the abuses to Canadian civil rights evidenced in this specific case.

Globe and Mail
“The defence also argues that he was questioned for 12 hours without having access to a lawyer.”


“Mr. Sonne is corralled in front of that police car,” defence lawyer Joe Di Luca told Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies.

Mr. Di Luca said his client, as was his right, refused to identify himself when the officers asked.

He said he would only do so if he was being detained under the Terrorism Act, something the Crown said would have alarmed the officers.

The police then devised a “ruse” to obtain his ID by threatening to arrest him for jaywalking, court heard, and Mr. Sonne then appeared to identify himself.


Mr. Sonne’s Internet activity had attracted the attention of law enforcement,” Byrne said.

To justify the warrant that led to his arrest, police used Mr. Sonne’s Twitter and Flickr postings, along with statements made when they stopped him downtown.

Colin Perkel, Globe and Mail, G20 trial begins for man charged with possessing explosives

2. Home/Office Search Warrant

Toronto Star

Toronto computer consultant Byron Sonne once built a “wave guide” to redirect microwave energy but confessed he was unable to even melt chocolate from a few inches.

“He posted a wry account of his failed experiment on his “Toronto Goat Blog,” in June 2009, concluding there was “no magnetron death ray.”

“But a year later, a G20 intelligence detective deliberately misled a judge when he omitted any reference to the blog in a document seeking authorization for a search warrant of Sonne’s Forest Hill home, his lawyer Joseph Di Luca argued Tuesday.”

“In written documents, the Crown argues French’s concerns were reasonable and the defence’s “microanalysis” of his every factual assertion should be rejected.”

— Peter Small, Toronto Star, Police officer misled judge in ‘G20 geek’ probe, lawyer says

3. Search Warrant Family Cottage

Toronto Sun

“His lawyers argue officers quickly developed tunnel vision after reading Sonne’s blog, posts on Flickr and tweets from a Toronto Goat Twitter account and wrongly concluded he had nefarious intentions.

Defence lawyer Joseph Di Luca told the court the flimsy evidence amassed against Sonne should be thrown out because police repeatedly violated his Charter rights and filed an affidavit filled with “falsehoods and inaccuracies” to secure search warrants for his home and Midland cottage.

At one point, police falsely claimed they’d found HTMD, an explosive substance, and a home-made detonator in Sonne’s Elderwood Ave. home so a judge would issue another warrant.”

— Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun Byron Sonne: Wacky or enemy of the state?

Although I am not a lawyer, but it certainly seems to me that the rights guaranteed to Byron Sonne, the same rights owed to every citizen under the Charter, were not honoured.

Any unarmed, ordinary, law abiding, Canadian, suddenly surrounded by three armed police officers is likely to comply with whatever they say. But Byron didn’t.

Byron refused to allow himself to be bullied.

Byron Sonne availed himself of the legal protection of Canadian Law. It seems that everything else happened as a direct consequence.

Since when does standing up for yourself warrant the kind if legal over-reaction levelled at Byron Sonne? Call me crazy, but I had this idea that law enforcement isn’t supposed to bully citizens.  That’s why we have the Charter: to protect our rights.

Byron Sonne did not allow himself to be bullied.  If the Crown attorney doesn’t understand the effect of that, perhaps the Crown needs to get reacquainted with the world most Canadians live in.  I find the Crown’s cavalier attitude toward Canadian civil rights to be very disturbing.

If the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
doesn’t work for one of us,
it works for none of us.

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Trial notes !FreeByron
Twitter: #freeByron\
Open File:
The ruse that violated Byron Sonne’s rights
Lies and Videotape: Byron Sonne trial continue
The Daily Ruse
Free Byron Website

P.S.: The trial has already exceeded the time allotted for it, and will go much further. Please make a donation if you can:
You can wire funds directly to:
Valerie Sonne, In Trust
TD-Canada Trust, 1 Queen St.E & Main St., Brampton, Ontario, Canada L6W 2A7
Branch Transit: 21202
Financial Institution: 004
Account: 03116395523