Friday, June 25, 2010

The Curious Case of Byron Sonne

Even before the G20 security blitz began, there was the "gardening incident".

At the height of outrage over the fake lake and the escalating security costs, word comes down of a potential home-grown Canadian terrorist. Armed with deadly fertilizer, complete with scary foreign accent, the police sketch of his terrifying mug was dutifully displayed on every news broadcast and newspaper in the country... right up until the authorities established that sometimes fertilizer is just fertilizer.

At the time, I marvelled at the convenient timing and wondered how many incidents just like this one go unreported every year and are quietly resolved without the hue and cry.

Then Byron Sonne was arrested.

When the news came that a man had been charged with possession of explosives, I didn't really question it. After all, that's a little more definitive than buying a few bags of fertilizer. But then my husband came home with a different story, told to him by a group of people who actually know Byron Sonne and who are raising serious questions about the characterization of this man as a terrorist.

It's pretty much the same story the Toronto Star was telling the next morning:

‘Middle-aged white guy’ doesn’t fit terrorist profile
Friends, colleagues baffled by charges against man they say likes to challenge security apparatus

At the Surveillance Club meeting, Sonne shared his plans to listen in on police scanners during the summit and disseminate information to protesters via Twitter, according to Hirsh and Andrew Clement, a University of Toronto professor who was also at the meeting.

This was the same tactic used by two protesters at last year’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh, a plan that ultimately led to their arrests. The charges were dropped.

According to Hirsh, Sonne knew his activities could attract unwanted attention from security officials. But at the same time, he did not seem like someone bent on causing mayhem and destruction, Hirsh said.

“He was more critical of the whole circus, as it were,” Hirsh recalled. “I suspect that this may just be a stunt and perhaps a stunt that got out of hand.”

Sonne may have also been deliberately baiting security officials, Hirsh said, and he mentioned wanting to purchase items online that would “trigger counter-terror alarms.”

“It was part of a larger critique or activist exercise to show the absurdity of what’s often referred to as security theatre,” said Hirsh, who didn’t know what items Sonne planned to buy.

This appears to be borne out by his Twitter feed (under the somewhat ironic moniker "torontogoat"), where he links to a map of security cameras, gives tips for scaling small gauge security fences (you can apparently thread large bolts through the holes), and advises people on their rights when dealing with the police.

What makes his musings a little more credible than most - and that much more irritating to the powers that be - is the fact that he's a well respected computer security professional who currently runs his own security consulting firm. So when he points to the flaws and cracks in Fortress Toronto, it doesn't seem very likely that he was doing so to aid and abet domestic terrorism. At worst, it sounds like this was his way of showing how smart he was and deliberately tweaking the noses of government security to try to get a reaction.

Yeah, I can see how that would be annoying. Provocative, certainly, maybe even worthy of further investigation. But seriously - how does that amount to an arrest warrent? And why does all this make me wonder if the 'explosives' in question were nothing more than a propane tank - or maybe a few bags of fertilizer?

Oh yes, and then there was this guy yesterday - who is looking more and more like just some poor schmuck on his way to the cottage with some tools and an unfortunate choice of target shooting equipment.

But the truth doesn't matter. Just as long as everyone stays scared enough to stop worrying about the billion dollar price tag and the suspension of civil rights in and around the fence.

 UPDATE: Turns out the poor bastard they arrested yesterday does indeed carry that sort of stuff around with him all the time - because he lives in a trailer up north with no electricity or water. According to his father he's an otherwise perfectly gentle, intelligent man who tends to paranoia when he's off his meds. Thus the crossbow. Of course, is he actually paranoid when they really are, apparently, out to get him?


  1. Insightful and good post.

  2. I hear-tell they're handin' out lotsa jaywalkin' tickets, too. I reckon they're gonna justify the expense one way or another. Fearmongerin' is the main stock and trade of scarerists like Pryminister Harpoon and his gang of wedge warriors. Anarchists, extremists, WMDs, bogeymen under the bed, jaywalkers, the homeless, kite flyers, canoeists... all Enemies of the State.

    I ain't goin' to Trawna to protest on accounta a coupla reasons.

    First reason is the G-whizzers make so many promises they don't keep that even if they was to say they agreed with everything the protests call for, they'd be lyin' sure as shit.

    Second, I been keepin' an eye on the Sahel situation. That's the crisis in Niger and nearby where 10 million poor folks is starvin' to death. It's bad enough when our tax money goes to a billion dollar photo op but it costs me money to get to TO and I'm sendin' it to Africa instead.

    If I had a billion dollars, I'd feed 10 million people. A hunnert bucks is about all I can spare and I'd rather use it to feed a few poor bastards than give King Steve the satisfaction of tear gassin' my sorryass.


     I read the blogs ... I bottom line Sonne was insighting how to defeat the system ... free speach is 1 thing.  Telling others how to cause mayhem is another.  He had like a 1000 posts of security cameras ... what do you expect ... a reward.  If he had explosives he went to far.

  4. I worked with Byron for 10 years. He's the type of person that would see if he could attract attention never thinking what would happen if he did. Not stupid just daft.
    But all in all a good dude. Not a threat.

  5. Thank you for an insightful post. I've linked to this on the website. Here, specifically:

    Sorry for the brevety. I've been to his hearings, so I don't like to say much with the publication ban. Thank you kindly for helping to get the oddity of his case out there. :)


  6. Regarding your "guest"; There has been a very active person trolling pretty much everywhere Byron's name comes up. It's someone with a personal grudge. I suspect this is the same gentleman. Please pay him no mind.

  7. Thanks for sharing this. It's good to see people getting the word out there about how crazy the Crown has been in overreacting to G20 resistance in general and Byron Sonne specifically.

    Byron has a lot of friends out there and we're going to be following this case and making sure he gets judged fairly. We'll fight this as long as it takes to clear his name.