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?

The Emperor Has No Clothes ~ FreeByron

What would you call a professional security consultant who tests the vaunted security apparatus of the billion Dollar G20 Summit that descended on Toronto like a pall last year?

You’d call him Byron Sonne.

A Canadian flag flies at half mast against a blue sky

In the children’s story I reference in the title, the child that pointed out the deficiencies in the Emperor’s wardrobe was listened to.

In Canada, for doing much the same thing — pointing out the deficiencies of the G20 security apparatus — Byron Sonne was arrested, incarcerated without bail for nearly a year, and is now undergoing the rigors of a trial.

the trial

Three days were scheduled for the Charter arguments — to decide whether the protections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been breached by law enforcement in this case. The Charter argument has stretched into two weeks.

The Toronto Star has released a video of one of Byron’s interrogations by Detective Tam Bui a day after his arrest on June 22nd last year. Watching this video is an up close and personal look at the Canadian justice system.

The reason citizens need some kind of protection from the law is that the law is far more powerful than most citizens will ever be.

In the video, we see the detective ask Byron about a whole host of things that he did.

  • Taking photographs in public places and posting them on Flickr.
  • Posting comments about the increased police presence for the G20 on Twitter.
  • Owning a potato cannon and air guns.
  • Possessing a variety of chemicals for various purposes that might be combined to make bombs.

“…why don’t you go down to Canadian Tire, why don’t you arrest them because they have all the ingredients…”

—Byron Sonne interrogation video released by the Toronto Star

I’m not a lawyer, but I didn’t think that any of these things are illegal.

Taking photographs in the public spaces of the municipality where you live isn’t illegal. Or, it didn’t used to be.

And when did taking photographs of law enforcement officers become illegal?

Back when I was in the seventh grade, I was on a class trip with my first camera when I happened across an RCMP officer dressed in the distinctive Red Serge “Review Order” dress uniform. I asked him to pose for me. And he did.

Now I’m an adult who takes plenty of photographs everywhere I go with my digital camera. And I post photographs on Flickr too. But these days, when I find myself photographing police officers, at the KW Multicultural festival for instance, I wonder: is this going to get me arrested?

I post comments about things that I perceive to be threats to democracy on Identi.ca, Twitter and Facebook all the time. I blog a lot, too. Is this going to get me arrested?

Personally, I’ve never owned anything like a potato cannon or an air gun. My older brother wanted an air rifle, just like Ralphie, when he was a kid. When he didn’t get one, he built himself a slingshot that I lacked the strength to use. But I’ve seen children using working trebuchets built by amateur enthusiasts at medieval festivals. The incredibly popular “Angry Birds” computer game involves shooting birds out of catapults to knock things down. How many people like playing shoot’em-up video games? . Clearly, people like shooting things.

Years ago I allowed my brother-in-law to put a plaster head I’d sculpted in my high school art class on a cedar rail fence and shoot it into plaster dust with his real hunting rifle. You know, one of those long guns that the Federal Government doesn’t want to have registered?

As a life long mystery buff. I’ve been reading and watching mysteries my whole life. I recall a Columbo episode that involved a chef killing someone with a frozen fish, then defrosting it and feeding the murder weapon to the guests at a dinner party. Most anything can become a murder weapon.

And if we are going to start talking about possessing chemicals that are legal to own, but that can then be combined to make a bomb, that covers an awful lot of ground. If you know anything about chemicals, you know that cleaning supplies can be used in many ways their manufacturers did not intended. I know never to mix bleach and ammonia because combined they make poison gas. Many perfectly useful things can be combined to make explosives.

Detective Bui:
This is a very structured, organized shelf of chemicals you have here. My understanding is that ammonium nitrate can be used in the construction of an incendiary device or an explosive device, is that correct?

Byron Sonne:
Yeah, but so can lighter fluid, so can your barbeque tank in your back yard, so can cooking oil in your house.

Detective Bui:
You’re a chemist, or an engineer or you definitely have a chemical background…

Byron Sonne:
not a licensed engineer

Detective Bui
OK. Do you have elements here that could be combined to make an explosive device?

Byron Sonne:
Ah, No, because I would not combine them into an explosive device.

Detective Bui:
But that wasn’t exactly my question. I’m asking do the elements exist. When we take a laundry list of items out of your house, and if we combine them in a certain manner could create an explosive device.

Byron Sonne:
I think that this interview might be over officer.

interrogation video released the Toronto Star

Boing Boing said it best: Law prof and cop agree: never ever ever ever ever ever ever talk to the cops about a crime, even if you’re innocent

If you watch the interview closely, you will see that Byron and the Detective are in agreement that none of the bits of “evidence” the detective asks Byron about are in and of themselves illegal. The detective doesn’t question that, instead, what he does is to try to get Byron to agree that the chemicals could be used to make a bomb, and that the cumulative effect of the evidence is how bad things look, and what other people might think of this or that.

Have I missed something? I thought that our legal system was based on facts and evidence, not innuendo.

What did Byron Sonne actually do?

He took photographs documenting the G20’s massive influx of security cameras, the deployment of security fences around public buildings, and police officers visible on public streets.

Byron Sonne pointed out security flaws in the G20 security apparatus.

And now he’s pointing out flaws in the Canadian justice system.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

further reading

For an idea of what has been happening in court, read the notes published here: colah / ByronTrialNotes

Read Byron Sonne’s Twitter stream @torontogoat

See Byron Sonne’s toronto_goat’s photostream on Flickr.

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~ laurelrusswurm, 19 November, 2011