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
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.
a handbook for activists
1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK TO THE POLICE OR
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.
2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET CSIS OR THE POLICE
INTO YOUR HOME OR OFFICE UNLESS THEY
HAVE A SEARCH OR ARREST WARRANT. Demand
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.
3. IF THE POLICE DO PRESENT A WARRANT, YOU
DO NOT HAVE TO TELL THEM ANYTHING OTHER
THAN YOU NAME, ADDRESS AND BIRTH DATE.
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.
4. IF THE POLICE TRY TO QUESTION YOU OR TRY
TO ENTER YOUR HOME WITHOUT A WARRANT,
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.”
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…
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. 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!]