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Counselling commission of mischief, not committed
May 17, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Just before the Toronto G20, Byron Sonne was arrested on a wide range of charges (previously). Nearly eleven months later, he has been granted bail.

He's been refused bail twice before, and is the last person still held on G20-related charges. He's due in court in November on reduced charges that include possession of explosives and counselling the commission of mischief that was not committed. Details of the case are under a publication ban as requested by the defence.

Last month's Toronto Life had an in-depth cover story on the arrest and its fallout. And Jesse Brown of the Search Engine podcast has some questions.

Freebyron.org says he should be out by noon tomorrow.
posted by flipper (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll add that the "possession of explosives" charge likely does not mean possession of explosives here. I recall that in the case of some accused Toronto terrorists, it was revealed that the explosives in question owned "bomb-making instructions and more than 50 circuit boards specifically designed to remotely detonate bombs." Despite the lack of explosive material, ownership of circuit boards can qualify as possession of explosives in Canada.

Whether or not a 38yo computer geek has old circuit boards in his apartment is an exercise left to the reader.
posted by mek at 3:16 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sonne was charged with possessing explosive substances, intimidating justice officials, mischief, attempted mischief and possessing dangerous weapons.
How can that be a crime? Wouldn't that give the police carte blanche to arrest anyone who looked at them funny? WTF?
posted by delmoi at 4:01 PM on May 17, 2011


delmoi: How can that be a crime? Wouldn't that give the police carte blanche to arrest anyone who looked at them funny? WTF?

...or blew bubbles in their vicinity.
posted by gman at 4:06 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Eww
posted by Flashman at 4:11 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a question: is it common for professional associations to revoke the membership of its members that are on criminal trial for something (including misconduct within their profession)?

Are (isc)2's actions in revoking Sonne's CISSP certification pending the positive result of his trial typical of a professional organization? Presumably the dropping of some charges wasn't enough to reinstate his certification, although I'm not certain they articulated a specific charge that warranted his certification being revoked).

I'm also somewhat curious if he is vindicated on all charges, if he will wish to continue to associate with (and pay membership fees to) the CISSP folks.
posted by el io at 4:25 PM on May 17, 2011


counselling the commission of mischief that was not committed

This is pretty much the story of my life. I better watch out.
posted by fuq at 4:36 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm friends with a few of Byron's friends (via HackLab) and the past year has been a very frustrating time. It's certainly illustrated for us why a lot of people refuse to talk to the cops and that our "justice" system is anything but. As white middle-class people, we rarely had opportunities to see it this clearly before. The behaviour of the Toronto police before, during and since the G20 has eroded a lot of trust.
posted by heatherann at 4:48 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also somewhat curious if he is vindicated on all charges, if he will wish to continue to associate with (and pay membership fees to) the CISSP folks.

You're overstating the degree of professional collegialiality involved in CISSP. It's a certification, not an association. As certs go, it's one of the few with some caché left, and is quite difficult to get and maintain; however, it's basically eye candy for one's C.V., and useless otherwise. I got mine in 2006 and let it lapse three years later because I wasn't trying to get hired by anyone who cared about it.
posted by fatbird at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2011


I read that Toronto Life story. He wanted to wanted to know how far he could push the autorities so he very deliberately set out to be noticed by them. He thought he'd just get pulled in for questioning. Well, he got their attention alright - and blew up his marriage, and the rest of his life in the process. Wonder what he thinks about his game now.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2011


I should add that I don't see the Toronto Police etc as having handled the G20 in a stellar fashion, either!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:03 PM on May 17, 2011


Wonder what he thinks about his game now.

I hope he feels, more than ever, vindicated.
posted by Shit Parade at 6:13 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


counselling the commission of mischief

That's the charge they brought against Jaggi Singh, too. He's facing up to six months in jail for tweeting about anti-G20 activism and for saying this:
Q: Jaggi you said you were going to take down the fence, is that metaphorically or literally?

J: I didn’t say I was going to take down the fence myself. I think the fence deserves to be taken down and I hope people do organize to do so. Whether we can in the context of this police operation, and the rest of it, is something to be seen. But I do think we need to re-establish parameters of things here. This [gesturing to the fence] is completely illegitimate and deserves to be taken down. And I commend anyone that tries to do it.
posted by twirlip at 6:22 PM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I read that Toronto Life story. He wanted to wanted to know how far he could push the autorities so he very deliberately set out to be noticed by them. He thought he'd just get pulled in for questioning. Well, he got their attention alright - and blew up his marriage, and the rest of his life in the process. Wonder what he thinks about his game now.
Don't you think people should actually have to, you know, break the law before the government comes down and ruins them? Do you really want to live in a society where embarrassing or annoying the government is a jail-able offense?
posted by delmoi at 6:23 PM on May 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think it's appalling what the government did to Sonne and everyone else that weekend. But he did those things to see what would happen. And he found out. I just wonder if he'd do it again, knowing how it turned out, and what he lost because of it. In other words, was it worth it?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:29 PM on May 17, 2011


At the very least he is aiding and abetting the real criminals by distracting the police.
posted by fuq at 6:44 PM on May 17, 2011


But he did those things to see what would happen. And he found out. I just wonder if he'd do it again, knowing how it turned out, and what he lost because of it. In other words, was it worth it?
Well, I think you're asking the wrong question though. This is kind of like victim blaming, you're saying he was "asking for it", even though you think it's wrong. He couldn't have expected in advance that they would extra-judicially punish him this way.
posted by delmoi at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the very least he is aiding and abetting the real criminals by distracting the police.
That's idiotic.
posted by delmoi at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


You're overstating the degree of professional collegialiality involved in CISSP. It's a certification, not an association. As certs go, it's one of the few with some caché left, and is quite difficult to get and maintain; however, it's basically eye candy for one's C.V., and useless otherwise. I got mine in 2006 and let it lapse three years later because I wasn't trying to get hired by anyone who cared about it.

Cache.

Caché.

Cachet.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:55 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


It appears that he acted in a deliberate manner to provoke various profiling mechanisms setup to flag and identify suspected terrorists. Then he went put of his way to attract police attention. To see what would happen. Next he will jump into the threshing machine to verify its safety mechanisms.
posted by humanfont at 7:00 PM on May 17, 2011


fuq: “At the very least he is aiding and abetting the real criminals by distracting the police.&rqduo;

Indeed. I just got off the phone with the Royal Canadian Mounted myself; it just so happens that I'm familiar with a number of soap bubbles that are accessories to murder.
posted by koeselitz at 7:01 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


humanfont: “It appears that he acted in a deliberate manner to provoke various profiling mechanisms setup to flag and identify suspected terrorists. Then he went put of his way to attract police attention. To see what would happen. Next he will jump into the threshing machine to verify its safety mechanisms.”

ThatCanadianGirl: “I think it's appalling what the government did to Sonne and everyone else that weekend. But he did those things to see what would happen. And he found out. I just wonder if he'd do it again, knowing how it turned out, and what he lost because of it. In other words, was it worth it?”

A lot of Green Revolution protesters in Iran have gone out in public holding signs that castigate the government. They chant slogans that call out the violence of the regime. And they get arrested, tortured, and killed. But they must have known they'd get hurt. They apparently did it just to see what would happen.

In this case, the easy response is: 'but it was wrong for the Iranian government to arrest, torture, and kill people who had done nothing but protest peacefully!' This is true. Was it acceptable for the Canadian government to arrest someone who hadn't broken the law?

The question here is whether Mr Sonne broke the law. It's not about whether he was "just trying to see what would happen," or whether he knew they would arrest him for what he did. The only important question is: did he break the law? And if he didn't, the Canadian government is broken in a serious way and needs to be fixed. Societies based on democracy and freedom can't arrest anyone on the fringe of what's seen as "acceptable" simply because they imagine that such people might commit crimes at some point.
posted by koeselitz at 7:10 PM on May 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


So the police should take a wait and see attitude before arresting potential terrorists, just because it might be some crazy situation where the person was just playing games with them. Otherwise Canada=Iran?
posted by humanfont at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2011


I am also friends with some of Byron's (mountainbiking) friends and I met him a couple of times and spent a fair bit of time arguing/agreeing with him on forums as well as by email once or twice.

Byron is and was very well liked and there's a lot of relief that he's finally getting bail BUT everyone is aware that he set himself up here. There is no way for the cops to distinguish between a genuine threat and a person (especially a person as skilled as Byron) who is doing his best to impersonate a threat. I'm sure Byron is also aware of that.

I'm really glad that the truth about him seems to be coming out. He was a person who was placed in a strange situation by his own abilities and his wife's family's wealth. He had a very strong tendency to go overboard and I know of at least one other completely unrelated situation where he narrowly avoided getting into extremely hot water -- once again with the best of intentions.

It's a tragedy what's happened to his personal life but on the other hand I'm fairly confident he will emerge as an important figure in the narrative of security theater as this all plays out. Ironically this whole experience may have given him the role it often seemed he was searching for.

One additional point: Byron is the person most likely to attempt to become a real life superhero I have ever met.
posted by unSane at 7:43 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The really scary and shocking thing about the case, I think, is that this has taken eleven months. I can imagine that the police would want to investigate him, question him, keep tabs on him, etc. But – eleven months of arrest with no bail? This is extraordinary. He would have to actually be a terrorist for that to be warranted in any way whatsoever.
posted by koeselitz at 7:48 PM on May 17, 2011


I think the timeline seems a bit long, on the other hand maybe he's taken steps to draw things out. his lawyers are the ones who have requested a publication ban. Also there has probably been some disbelief in the court system that some guy would go out of his way to create all this circumstantial evidence that he's a dangerous terrorist, provoke his own arrest and have it just be some kind of stunt. I'm not really surprised that an under-resourced criminal justice system operating under extra vigilance about terrorism would have a hard time figuring out what to do.
posted by humanfont at 8:05 PM on May 17, 2011


Yes, the government should take a wait and see attitude and not arrest people, even people they think are potential terrorists, until those people break the law.

The whole concept of justice is a farce if people can be arrested without breaking the law.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:08 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or rather, people should not be arrested unless there is probable cause to believe that they have broken the law.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:09 PM on May 17, 2011


Isn't planning a terrorist act a crime? Was there probable cause here to think he might be planning this act given his actions which were designed to have the police think that he was, just to test the limits of the system.
posted by humanfont at 8:22 PM on May 17, 2011


No, there was no fucking probable cause. He'd done nothing illegal, or even unethical. He was walking around taking pictures of the security apparatus and publicly posting them in order to mock them.
posted by Ickster at 8:33 PM on May 17, 2011


The issue isn't that the criminal justice system in Ontario is under-resourced (it is but it is very hard to believe that this has any bearing in a political case like this one). The issue is that there appears to be no interest, impetus or compulsion for the police or the crown prosecutors to stand down in a case like this, and to the contrary a great deal of interest in drawing it out as long and as harshly as possible and in hurting people for no good reason or result (see the similar treatment of the ~17 arrested protest 'organizers', many of whom were denied bail for quite a long time as well and have since been subjected to bail conditions that are unbelievably restrictive, costly and very arguably unconstitutional).

I am pretty certain that no one involved in the Sonne case at TPS, with the feds or with the Crown actually believes in any of the charges presented, or that Sonne was a threat to anyone except the image and authority of the security services. It's a politically motivated prosecution: Sonne's arrest was the supreme and most successful act of summit security theatre (only the quite-possibly-fabricated incident of people being arrested after emerging from a manhole on the Sunday morning comes close). There is a high degree of commitment to sustaining the performance for as long as possible, especially given how many other parts of the security operation ended up being incredible embarrassments for TPS and the ISU.

I count my stars that the mischief charge (ultimately withdrawn) that I faced in Toronto last year happened just early enough that it didn't get wrapped up in G20 nonsense. If I had really anticipated how bad things would get, I would have stopped my infrastructure work in the city much earlier.
posted by waterunderground at 8:38 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the police should take a wait and see attitude before arresting potential terrorists, just because it might be some crazy situation where the person was just playing games with them. Otherwise Canada=Iran?

Works for me.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:45 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is the very definition of civil disobedience -- does no one know this?

I find it extraordinary, an incredulous parapraxis does stall my typing fingers. Look when the laws are unjust it is the duty of a just man to be behind bars. Arrest your snickering and your jejune snark; this man actually existed in a realm much higher than most can imagine, he manifestly lives in a world where the words good and evil have a meaning as intrinsic to reality as gravity.

Honestly, metafilter has many slavish minds.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:35 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the police should take a wait and see attitude before arresting potential terrorists

Well, no, I see where you're coming from, humanfont. When I think about it, this statement, clearly exhibiting a disavowal of our basic Canadian democratic ideals, could be construed as radical. For our general safety, I have reported you to the nearest constabulary. They will be detaining you shortly, because they don't want to take a wait and see attitude in regards to this matter. You could be planning some sort of terrorist activity.

See you in 11 months.
posted by mek at 1:03 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


White Canadian man with a college degree. He's Rosa on the bus, Ghandi in India, and now he's sitting in jail like Mandela. Standing up for the right to pretend to be a terrorist.... First they came for the pretend terrorists, and I said nothing, then they came for...
posted by humanfont at 5:00 AM on May 18, 2011


It appears that he acted in a deliberate manner to provoke various profiling mechanisms setup to flag and identify suspected terrorists. Then he went put of his way to attract police attention. To see what would happen. Next he will jump into the threshing machine to verify its safety mechanisms.

I think that if your country's police force and judicial system can be usefully compared to a threshing machine, you have bigger problems than this guy is ever likely to present.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:03 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sonne was charged with possessing explosive substances, intimidating justice officials, mischief, attempted mischief and possessing dangerous weapons.

How can that be a crime? Wouldn't that give the police carte blanche to arrest anyone who looked at them funny? WTF?


CAVEAT: I haven't read any official documents so I'm speculating. However, last year I wrote a moot problem based on the G20 protests & section 423.1 of the Criminal Code, and so I'm guessing that this is what they're talking about. large link, scroll down to 423.1

Pretty much, you can't commit or threaten violence, or stalk, a justice system participant or journalist in order to create fear with the intention of harming 'the administration of justice' or preventing that participant for carrying out their duties.

aside: justice system participant is pretty broadly defined. The big ones are MPs, judges, witnesses, but some other ones including peace officers.

It's a relatively-unused section of the Code, mainly because it requires multiple layers of intention and it's nearly impossible to prove. It's mainly been used in the straightforward cases of gangs threatening witnesses & reporters. Something like this is, from my memory, beyond the previous uses of the section. I'm not saying it's "going too far" for the section, because it's clearly contemplated. However, in this case I think it's unlikely that they could prove he intended either to create a state of fear or to impede their work in the meaning of the section. So that probably won't stand.

So yeah, the police have carte blanche to arrest anyone who looked at them funny. But well they have that everywhere anyways on the generic grounds of disturbing the peace or what have you - there would (probably) never be a conviction for a minor incident under this section, and probably not even charges brought.

Hope that helps! My moot court scenario was much crazier, involving a police officer who used the Public Works Protection Act to harass a journalist, so questions arose as to whether an arrest based on mistaken facts counted as threatened violence, and if an order from above to arrest based on those mistaken facts could count as lawful authority. It was interesting.

Obviously, what I'm saying here isn't to be considered an endorsement of actions of either party, but just explaining that charge in connection to this case.

posted by Lemurrhea at 6:26 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


White Canadian man with a college degree. He's Rosa on the bus, Ghandi in India, and now he's sitting in jail like Mandela. Standing up for the right to pretend to be a terrorist....

Dude, come on. Byron's not a martyr for some noble cause, and no one is saying otherwise. What he did was stupid; he was literally asking for trouble. But the response from the cops and the courts has been absurdly heavy-handed, given that the guy was quite obviously never an actual threat to anybody. He just spent nearly a year of his life in jail. He can't go outside without being accompanied by his parents. He can't touch a computer without supervision, and even then only for work. Do you feel that his actions justify that?
posted by twirlip at 10:56 AM on May 18, 2011


This is just a guess at first glance this case probably looked like a tasty morsel for which ever prosecutor and investigative team that picked it up. They probably had every reason to think initially that this was a legitimate anarchist threatening to lob bombs at the G20 meeting. Imagine the office politics as people elbowed their way into the prosecution of the century a career making landmark case against a real live domestic terrorist. Once that team is assembled, the group think and confirmation biases take over. Information which now seem to obviously destroy the group's hypothesis is going to be totally ignored. This is just human behavioral dynamics. It isn't going to change and it will occur again. The adversarial criminal justice system is a threshing machine. This is why people hire expensive defense lawyers. Once you are arrested and on trial your odds of getting out without being convicted are extremely low. Look at how many people end up death row in the united states or have been exonerated by DNA evidence.
posted by humanfont at 12:37 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you feel that his actions justify that?

It's not a zero sum game. He can be suffering unjustly from a farcical security apparatus and still be a moron for having poked the bear the way he did.

When your friends in the hacker collective think you've gone too far and plan to throw you a "we told you so" party, it's probably time to step back and re-evaluate.
posted by fatbird at 1:14 PM on May 18, 2011


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