How Byron Sonne’s obsession with the G20 security apparatus cost him everything
The fence, as the notorious G20 barricade was known, was three metres high and 10 kilometres long. It was put up at a cost of $9.4 million to cordon off the public from two parts of the downtown core during the summit’s two days in Toronto last year. The most crucial area to protect was the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where the world leaders were set to meet. A second barricade enclosed Bay Street to Blue Jays Way and Wellington to Lake Shore Boulevard—home to the hotels where the Internationally Protected Persons would sleep.
In the buildup to the summit, Byron Sonne, a slim, balding 37-year-old computer consultant, shot photos and videos of security measures and uploaded them to the Internet under the nickname Toronto Goat. Sonne was obsessed with finding flaws in the security apparatus. Some of his comments on Twitter and Flickr derided the fence’s integrity and strength; a couple of photos showed climbing tools called tree steps that he said could be used to scale the fence or tear it down. Other security measures came under his scrutiny, too. Sonne posted a link to a Toronto Star map of the 71 new CCTV cameras that had been installed for the summit, and took photos of loose wires behind one of them, implying that they could be rendered useless with one snip.
As the G20 drew closer and downtown emptied out, groups of uniformed police with loops of plastic handcuffs strung on their belts began to take position at seemingly every corner, and Sonne posted pictures of them, too. (He titled one shot of bicycle cops rolling down University Avenue “Bacon on Wheels.”) For the benefit of anyone unlucky enough to be questioned, he posted a link to a pamphlet on protester rights put out by the Movement Defence Committee, a Toronto group of law students and lawyers.
By Tuesday, June 15, 11 days before the summit, he had uploaded five videos to YouTube—raw footage of the Convention Centre and various lengths of the fence, including parts of Simcoe Street and Bremner Boulevard. That day, as he walked around downtown with a camera, he attracted attention and was asked why he was filming the fence line. “Cops were polite enough,” he wrote on Twitter, “but they threatened me with a Highway Traffic Act violation for walking in the road to videotape. Beware of this trick.” He handed over his driver’s licence, but only after being threatened with a jaywalking ticket.
Four days before the summit began, just before lunch, Sonne walked out of his house on Elderwood Drive in Forest Hill and caught the Bathurst bus downtown. He heard sirens, and his bus pulled over. The sirens ceased, but the bus didn’t start moving again. After waiting a few minutes, he stood up to get off, grumbling to himself about the unreliability of the TTC, but he was stopped at the bus’s doors by a police officer who asked if he was Byron Sonne. “Yes,” he said. “Am I being arrested or detained?” The answer was yes.
Sonne was taken to 13 Division, at Eglinton and Allen Road. He says he sat through 14 hours of questioning, six of them before he was allowed to call a lawyer. He was asked if he knew anything about the Black Bloc and other political groups, and if he had any connections to protesters from the United States. The police had obtained search warrants for his home, his parents’ Midland cottage and his wife’s family cottage on Lake of Bays. At the end of his questioning, he was charged with six offences, carrying a maximum sentence of 58 years, including possession of a weapon and an explosive substance, mischief and intimidating the police. He was taken to the Maplehurst Correctional Centre in Milton.
The day after Sonne’s arrest, he appeared in a courthouse at Finch and Dufferin. I squeezed in on the lone viewer’s bench at the back of the courtroom with a dozen or so reporters, all of us eager to learn more about the first G20 criminal. This particular courthouse had been selected because the police were anticipating a large number of summit arrestees: its courtrooms are designed for gang trials, with a row of 12 phone booth–like prisoner’s boxes to accommodate multiple accused. On this day, however, there was just one accused. Sonne came into the room in an orange prison jumpsuit and winked at the journalists. He was represented by three lawyers: Joseph Di Luca, Peter Copeland and Kevin Tilley, who immediately requested a publication ban on court proceedings. Judges must grant these bans whenever asked, and many lawyers request them now as a matter of course. Sonne had no criminal record, but he was nevertheless denied bail. Two days after Sonne’s arrest, his wife of eight years, Kristen Peterson, was also arrested and charged with possessing an explosive material and a weapon.
Sonne’s friends and colleagues believe he wanted to get arrested, or at least wanted to see what it would take to get noticed. He had told them about his intention to challenge the G20 security apparatus in order to make a point about the violation of civil liberties. But he never imagined his friends and family would be dragged into it—and he never dreamed the consequences could be this severe. Standing up for constitutional freedoms is one thing; bringing the hammer of law enforcement down onto your own head is quite another.
A penetration test is an attempt to mimic a security breach in order to identify and eliminate weak spots in a boundary. It can be done on a physical building, on a military network or, in Sonne’s experience, on a computer system. As a freelance consultant, he was paid to do security analysis, specifically vulnerability research; he often tested whether websites could be coaxed into giving up products for free or companies were inadvertently breaking laws by disclosing their customers’ private information. He has worked for a company called FSC Internet (which is now part of Telus) and NCircle, a San Francisco–based computer security firm with an office in Toronto. In 2008, he started his own consultancy, Halvdan Solutions, out of his home. He charged clients $250 an hour.
Computer security is a lightning-fast field where the self-appointed good guys and bad guys duke it out in code as quickly as they can think of new ways to thwart each other. The ethical lines aren’t always clear. “Hacker” is a word that Sonne is happy to apply to himself, but the term is broad enough to include anyone with an independent streak who enjoys messing around with technology. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates used to call themselves hackers. A notorious American hacker, Albert Gonzalez, acted as a Secret Service informant against other computer criminals at the same time that he was leading the biggest credit and debit card thievery ring ever discovered.
Sonne is a long-time member of TASK (the Toronto Area Security Klatch), a group of 2,900 computer security professionals who organize monthly meetings to discuss developments in the minutiae of their trade. For three years, he has also been a member of Hacklab, a loose collective of 30 or so Toronto tech hobbyists who pay a $50 monthly fee to access a shared workshop in Kensington Market. The Lab, as members call it, launched in 2008. It’s a social place where people interested in quantum physics, higher mathematics or how to get an iPhone to run Flash programs can meet and share their schemes. Adhering to the law is a point of honour here, and attempts to broach illegal projects are met with derision.
In his house, sonne had acetone and hydrogen peroxide—common chemicals that can be used to make a bomb
At the Lab, Sonne was known as an outgoing guy who kept everything tidy and organized. He built wall units and stocked them with plastic bins, so that members could store works-in-progress on site. His personal tinkering included building motor control circuits, SIM card readers and the type of magnetic strip readers that are used on credit cards and security passes, just to see if he could. After the Polish immigrant Robert Dzieka´nski died from a police Tasering in the Vancouver airport in 2007, Sonne built an anti-Taser patch out of steel wool and denim. He says he never tested it, though, since owning a Taser is illegal.
In his Forest Hill garage, he experimented with building a waveguide, a set of custom-welded aluminum pipes meant to direct the electromagnetic waves emitted by a household microwave oven. The device requires precise mathematical calibration to work. Made properly, it can disrupt telecommunications signals. Sonne lined his garage with wet blankets so he didn’t disturb his neighbours’ Wi-Fi, but in the end his waveguide was a failure: all he was able to do was melt a tiny smear of chocolate, and that took a full minute.
Six years ago, Sonne ordered two air cannons off the Internet from a company called Spudtech. They’re PVC tubes about five feet long. To operate, they require an air compressor, which weighs about 30 pounds and must be plugged in to an electricity source. The compressor builds the air pressure in the tube to enable the object inside to shoot out. Sonne says it’s too loud, cumbersome and dangerous to use in the city, so he stored it at his parents’ cottage. On weekends, he and a group of friends would load up the cannon with potatoes or tennis balls, sometimes splattering watermelons. “It was nothing more than redneck fun,” he says.
About two years ago, Sonne and Fryderyk Supinski, a friend from Hacklab and TASK, devised a joint project. Both have been fascinated by rocketry since childhood, and they agreed to take up amateur rocket building together. Their ultimate goal was to make, from scratch, a rocket with a built-in camera to record the journey as it shot some 6,000 feet into the air. Supinski is an amiable 32-year-old who works in information security. He says it was all for fun, a pastime to share with his son. Sonne and Supinski began contacting Industry Canada and amateur rocketeering associations to investigate what licences and materials they would need to kick-start their pursuit. Sonne, true to his DIY streak, bought some of the chemicals he’d need to produce solid rocket fuel, but they put the project on hold when an executive from the Canadian Association of Rocketry warned them it was illegal to experiment with the chemicals before they acquired the proper licences. After Sonne was arrested, Supinski became nervous that his hobby would be seen as criminal and gave up on building rockets altogether. Still, in February, he went to Florida to see the launch of Discovery, the third-last mission NASA would send into space before contracting rocket building out to private companies. He bought an extra ticket to the launch and saved it until the last minute, hoping the charges would be dropped in time for Sonne to take the trip, but that didn’t happen.
Sonne had the time to indulge in his hobbies because of his wife’s family fortune, itself a product of security technology. Sonne and Peterson met in the mid-1990s, when he took his first job after graduating from Vaughan’s Radio College of Canada (now the RCC Institute of Technology) with a diploma in electronics engineering. He worked at Digital Security Controls, a company that Kristen’s father, John Peterson, had started in his basement in 1979. John Peterson and his collaborators held dozens of patents for keypads, wireless alarm monitors and other electronic equipment. By the time Sonne went to work for DSC, it was recognized worldwide as an industry leader.
Kristen Peterson, a brunette with blue-green eyes, earned her BA in English at McGill and joined the family company as a technical writer after Sonne was hired. She is taller than Sonne, and strikingly attractive. They began dating soon after they met. She had a strong sense of what kind of boyfriend she wanted: after a year of seeing each other, she told Sonne he had to move out of his parents’ Brampton home and spend some time living on his own, learning how to do his own shopping and paying his own bills. When she decided that his domestic skills were adequate, the two settled into an apartment in Forest Hill, the neighbourhood in which Peterson had grown up. An aspiring visual artist, she started a diploma course at the Toronto School of Art. Sonne grew bored with his work in systems administration and began to look for work in security.
In late 2001, John Peterson sold DSC Group to Massachusetts-based Tyco International for $90.2 million (U.S.). The next fall, Sonne and Peterson were married in an intimate 50-guest ceremony in her parents’ backyard, followed by dinner at Zucca near Yonge and Eglinton. After a week-long honeymoon on a houseboat in Amsterdam, the couple returned to Toronto and began looking for a home. In early 2003, Peterson’s parents bought them a Tudor house for $880,000. It has a charming yard full of gnarled trees and is 10 minutes away from Peterson’s parents’ home on Glencairn Avenue.
Sonne continued to take contract security jobs. He says that Peterson told him not to worry about finances—she wanted to use her share of her family’s new-found wealth to allow her husband the same freedom that she now had. Peterson volunteered as a docent at the Art Gallery of Ontario and enrolled in the Masters of Visual Studies program at the University of Toronto. She began to create installation art projects that played with lines and dimensions, putting on solo and group exhibitions at Spadina House, Convenience Gallery and campus art spaces. She and Sonne shared an interest in good food, and Peterson leafed through cookbooks, went through a phase of wheat-free eating, and experimented with developing her own recipes, referring to their favourites as “Death Row” meals. Another pastime was travelling, including a trip with Sonne’s parents, Bue and Valerie, to Denmark. Paid computer security work became just one of the many things Sonne spent his time on.
Sonne’s list of hobbies is so long it’s almost absurd, and many of them happen to involve chemicals with potentially explosive properties. By the time he started thinking about building rockets, he was already growing deep blue crystals out of copper sulfate. He and his wife are both avid gardeners and in their garage stored urea, ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, which he claims he used as fertilizers. He also had the ingredients to make triacetone triperoxide, an explosive compound commonly used by suicide bombers. The main ingredients of TATP are hydrogen peroxide (which he had for his rocket experiments) and acetone (a solvent he kept in his garage). Separately, they’re relatively harmless, but together they form an unstable concoction known to blow up from the slightest miscalculation. Sonne maintains that he never attempted to mix any explosive substances, and the quantities he owned were legal.
He has a restless energy, and one of his favourite pastimes is mountain biking. He spent many hours and thousands of dollars in the Don Valley, building and maintaining public trails—some of them part of the city plan, others that just seemed to him like a good idea. The G20 wasn’t the first time he had posted photos of tools on the Internet: years before, he was using the discussion forum section of the website mtbr.com to share his opinions on the best rakes, saws and screws for trail building with other mountain bikers, and to mull over the ethics of reshaping the Don Valley without government sanction. He used a camp stove fuelled with hexamine tablets (another ingredient that can be used to make explosives) to boil water for coffee on long rides.
Sonne traces his obsession with technology to a pivotal childhood experience. His dad worked at Northern Telecom for decades, and in the early 1980s, Bue Sonne decided to build a computer. Apple’s early home computers were gaining in popularity, but they were expensive for the average family. Using a homemade motherboard and makeshift components, Bue and a group of technicians and engineers from Nortel put together an unwieldy device that used tapes for memory and made constant beeping sounds. When Bue brought it home, Byron was entranced. He tried his hand at rudimentary programming, and he and his younger brother, Kristopher, insisted they needed the machine to learn their multiplication tables. Then, says Bue, “the boys burnt up the board on me,” so the family bought a Commodore.
In Sonne’s high school yearbook he’s labelled “most likely to become an international terrorist”
In elementary school, Sonne was pronounced gifted and skipped a grade. He was small in stature when he started Grade 9 at J. A. Turner Secondary School in Brampton and an easy target for bullies. In one incident, some older students zipped him into a duffle bag and hung it on a doorknob. He was a member of the audio-visual crew that operated lights and sound equipment for assemblies and plays. He was also a prankster. Once, at age 15, he tossed an artfully constructed combination of modelling clay, wires and a digital watch down the book return chute at the school library. Panicked school officials evacuated the building. Sonne approached the principal himself to explain that it was a joke and was nevertheless suspended. His classmates labelled him “Most Likely to Become an International Terrorist” in the yearbook.
A number of Sonne’s long-time friends showed up at his recent court appearances and bail hearings. “He’s the same guy he was in high school,” says Mark Allingham, a former roommate of Sonne’s brother, Kristopher, who considers them both among his closest friends. “He’s always liked to test people and rules. If you say, ‘You stay in that square,’ he’s the guy who’s going to have one toe out of it just to see if you notice.”
In the years after the 9/11 attacks, Sonne developed an interest in what skeptics call “security theatre,” a term used to describe expensive, large-scale measures that restrict individual freedom but have, in their view, a minimal effect on actual safety. He began to question the usefulness of CCTV cameras. Some research shows that CCTVs in the U.K. have reduced such crimes as parking lot break-ins but have little effect on crimes people really worry about, like violent assaults. Sonne also saw surveillance technology increasingly used for racial or class profiling—“paranoid Caucasians having to keep an eye on coloured folks or hobos in their precious lily-white urban enclaves, waiting for them to do something,” he told me. He was also disturbed by how security measures could be used to gather information about perceived enemies. This, he says, is when surveillance becomes a weapon. He engaged in debates with friends and colleagues about how the public was being observed and what exactly it would take to get “a visit from the men in black.” He decided he should find out. His plan: engage in borderline illegal activities, attract the attention of law enforcement and establish proof of the limits of Canadian freedom.
One of Sonne’s first steps was to join the Pirate Bay website under the nickname Goat Master. The site is used for posting and accessing torrents, which are large media files that are broken into smaller parts for ease of downloading. In 2009, Sonne began uploading controversial and hard-to-find books and videos onto Pirate Bay, compiling a collection that ranged from idealistic to outright disturbing. He thought that by exposing the lunacy (and poor writing) of many infamous extremist texts, his Pirate Bay collection would act as a “one-stop shop to debunk racist ideologies.” He also believes that defending the right to consume truly repulsive material is the real testing ground for free speech. Many of his selections are ideologically contradictory: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is there, but so is Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. He uploaded Assassination Politics, an essay in which author Jim Bell argues that anonymously funding the murder of corrupt public officials would help strengthen democracy. Sonne posted a map to U.S. nuclear, biological and chemical sites, purportedly prepared by the organization Prudent Places, which helps Americans who are concerned about environmental pollutants decide where to live. In a note on the site, he described one uploaded video as depicting a “Russian Nazi” beheading Muslims. A supporter of WikiLeaks (Sonne has made donations), he posted leaked government documents on Pirate Bay, including a Transportation Security Administration guide to passenger screening. Also in the list of files that Goat Master provided were documents reputedly read by Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, including The Turner Diaries (a 1978 novel that imagines a race war that results in the elimination of blacks and Jews) and Ragnar’s Guide to Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives. Most recently, Sonne used this site, along with YouTube, to host his videos of the G20 fence.
Sonne’s friends expected he’d spend a weekend in jail. “we planned on having a ‘we told you so’ party”
Sonne’s postings reveal his own standards of right and wrong. The first file he put up, in January 2009, was a handbook on “Setting Fires With Electric Timers” by the self-described “eco-guerrilla” outfit Earth Liberation Front. After noting that the document was hard to find, Goat Master wrote, “Please, educational purposes only…don’t be one of these idiots that goes out and hurts people.” His comment following the post of the Muhammad cartoons in April 2010 was angrier: “You’re getting what you deserve for fucking with Danish cartoonists,” he wrote, referring to the protests and death threats that followed the controversial cartoons’ publication in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Your religion is a stupid piece of ignorant shit.” When I asked Sonne about these comments, he told me he has no time for fundamentalists of any stripe (including “paranoid white Christian idiots”) and that he adamantly detests racism.
There was another purpose to his Pirate Bay collection: he used it to track how controversial materials moved on the Internet. He noticed that the file encryption program TrueCrypt was popular in the Middle East and former Soviet Union countries, and saw an uptick in the downloading of anti-Semitic materials during unrest in Israel. He says he detected Canadian and American government IP addresses looking at his torrents, but he was never contacted by authorities.
When his Internet provocations failed to garner the desired result, Sonne upped the ante. He applied for a restricted firearms licence, which is administered by the RCMP and requires that two people attest to his character (his friend Mark Allingham agreed to do so, without hesitation) and that his spouse sign the form to indicate her consent. The restricted firearms licence application, he says, was just the latest step in his “notice me” project—the only firearm he owns is from Canadian Tire, and it shoots pellets. Around the same time, he applied for a private investigator’s licence through the provincial Ministry of Community and Correctional Services. It also requires a law enforcement background check. The private investigator’s licence was a legitimate interest, as he wanted to start applying to agencies and government ministries for work as a forensic computer investigator. Sonne was granted both licences early last year.
In the late fall of 2009, Sonne began to believe that the upcoming G20 summit would be the perfect venue for him to publicize his independent study of security theatre. He paid close attention to news reports of escalating security costs, especially after the federal government overruled the warnings of then-mayor David Miller and other Toronto officials that holding the event in the city’s downtown core would be expensive and difficult to police. Sonne already had a radio scanner that allowed him to listen legally to unencrypted emergency service communications, so he gave a TASK workshop on how to listen in on emergency services. He attended meetings of the Surveillance Club, a new group launched by U of T researchers that was open to anyone who wanted to discuss surveillance and security issues, especially those concerning the G20. There, he announced his intention to perform a security analysis of the summit, inviting people to follow his postings on Flickr and Twitter (he has a mere 134 followers). Sonne’s plans were also the topic of conversation on the Internet relay channel that Hacklab maintains for members to have instant messaging conversations. He warned his wife that he intended to take pictures and videos of law enforcement in order to study the G20. She asked him to avoid the downtown if the weekend’s protests began to heat up, and he promised he would stick to documenting the setup.
Sonne’s hacker friends weren’t surprised when he was eventually arrested. “We planned on having a ‘we told you so’ party when he got out,” says Hacklab member Madison Kelly. But they expected he’d spend a weekend in jail and come out with a mischief charge. Sonne, too: his expectation, during his years of flirting with the law, was that he’d get to have a meeting with CSIS that would form the basis for a TASK presentation. The weapons and explosives charges, followed by the denial of bail, shocked and frightened Sonne’s friends, especially those with their own pet scientific projects.
Last fall, I wrote Sonne a letter asking for an interview, and he wrote back that he would welcome a chance to talk. I visited him twice at Maplehurst, waiting for him at a bank of telephones divided from the prisoners’ quarters by a long Plexiglas wall, while other inmates energetically waved at me through a tiny window. Sonne would come in, always wearing a vibrant orange jumpsuit. He’d speak quickly, apologizing if he seemed over-caffeinated. After our first in-person meeting, he began to call me at home, but the prison phone system is unreliable: it works only when making collect calls to land lines, and any loud noise causes the connection to break. So he sent me letters carefully written with prison-issue three-inch golf pencils—his longest was 17 pages.
Maplehurst allows each prisoner two 20-minute visits from friends and family every week. Bue and Valerie Sonne, both in their 60s, use one of the weekly slots, while Sonne’s friends and some of the Lab members jockey to fill the other. A few times, Sonne’s parents have brought his 92-year-old grandmother, Elsie, who lives in a retirement home at the end of their street, and his brother has made some trips from Ohio, where he works as a mechanical technician.
Bue Sonne, like his son, is a light-hearted joker with a shiny pate. He retired last year from driving a school bus, which is what he did after taking early retirement from Nortel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sonnes believe steadfastly in their son’s innocence. They feel they’ve been dragged into a witch hunt; they are certain their phone was tapped in the weeks after Byron’s arrest. They never received any official notice that their cottage had been searched, but after a police officer mentioned it, Bue paid a visit. The garage door was left unlocked, and the back door had been busted down and later nailed back into place from the inside. “There goes $1,000 down the drain,” Bue says. “They left a number of lights on—they could have turned them off.”
Valerie, a retired hospital administrative assistant, grows teary more easily than her husband. She’s certain that their son will be acquitted. “He’s been very strong, and he’s keeping us strong,” she says. “We have faith in the system.” For Valerie, one of the worst parts about going to visit Byron is the waiting room—it usually takes an hour before they’re finally able to go through the metal detector and talk to him—but what really upsets her is interacting with other prisoners’ families, especially mothers with little children. “It’s the saddest thing,” she says. “And they’re not all guilty in there, either.”
Maplehurst, known to inmates as the Milton Hilton, is a superjail. It holds 1,184 male prisoners; Sonne shares a two-person cell in a 32-person unit reserved for those awaiting trial. Inmates are allowed 15 to 30 daily minutes of outdoor time in a fenced-in yard, which doesn’t provide him enough exercise time to keep his anxiety in check. Using a sheet of eight-and-a-half-by-11 paper, Sonne measured the hallway in front of his cell, calculating that 220 laps is four kilometres of cardio, which he runs each day, followed by 400 jumping jacks and 60 push-ups. Supporters have been sending him a lot of books: he read the Bible, the Quran and War and Peace in their entirety, and reread Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, a fantasy novel about an ancient kingdom woven into a rug, which he thinks should be made into a movie. He adopted a vegan diet because he finds the jail’s menu unpleasant.
At a preliminary hearing in February, most of Sonne’s charges were dropped. The mischief charge is gone, as are two counts of intimidating justice system officials, one of them “by watch and beset,” an extremely rare charge that refers to stalking and threatening. The weapons charge was also dismissed. (The potato guns at the Sonnes’ cottage aren’t illegal and, evidently, aren’t going to be counted against him.)
Sonne still faces the explosives charge, plus a new charge added at the end of the preliminary: counselling to commit mischief not committed. Simply put, it seems his Internet posts showed people how to disable security cameras and tear the fence down, although no one acted on that information. He had to return to jail when the hearing was over, and he anticipated being there at least another six weeks while his lawyers prepared his third bail application. His parents are burning through their retirement fund to pay for the legal costs. Sonne carries a lot of guilt about the stress his arrest is putting on his family and friends (some of whom have been cautioned by their employers not to associate with him). His certification as a security system professional was suspended pending an acquittal, and he suspects he’ll have trouble getting security work after this, even if he is vindicated. On top of all that, it looks like his marriage is over.
Peterson began pursuing legal separation three months after their home was searched and she was taken away in handcuffs. Unlike Sonne, she was granted bail the day after she was arrested, though she was forbidden from contacting her husband except through her attorney. The police seized her artwork and some of her possessions, and the AGO suspended her as a volunteer. Even after both of her charges were dropped in late January, Peterson didn’t soften toward her partner of 15 years—she hasn’t been to visit, and her parents didn’t return Valerie’s email about picking up some of her son’s clothes from the house on Elderwood.
“I hurt like hell with loneliness and ache with a loss of my life’s meaning at times,” Sonne wrote in one of his letters to me. “To go from a beautiful life, a beautiful wife and a beautiful house to this….I’d say it’s my crown of thorns if that didn’t make me sound like an egotistical asshole.” His mother, who calls the Petersons “lovely, lovely people,” says she flips sadly through Byron and Kristen’s wedding album almost every week. On the first day of his preliminary trial, as evidence from the search of his home was presented, Sonne broke down in the courtroom and cried.
This fall is probably the earliest that Sonne can have a full trial to hear his remaining two charges. He faces a maximum five-year sentence for the explosives charge and another 10 years for the counselling accusation. He didn’t expect to spend a birthday and Christmas in jail, or to be single, but on most days he still shows a sense of humour, like when I told him his story would be on Toronto Life’s cover. “I hope this doesn’t go to my head,” he wrote to me, “along with my stunning good looks and athletic prowess.”
Sonne was one of 1,115 people arrested during the G20. He’s the only one who has remained in jail since then. Two class action suits have been launched against the Toronto Police for wrongful arrest: one for $115 million, the other for $45 million. Sonne, too, plans to launch a civil suit if he’s acquitted, to make up for his lost earnings while in jail. He also expects to be in court again to argue that his arrest and incarceration violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Ministry of the Attorney General declined to make any comment to me on Sonne’s case.
Sonne’s friends from Hacklab say they always saw him as a crusader, but his parents never considered him to be politicized. I asked him if either depiction was accurate. “It’s hard to use the word ‘political’ satisfyingly, because you have to align yourself with a particular dogma,” he answered. He has occasionally described himself as an “anarchist” but thinks that it’s too easily misinterpreted (in his definition, the label means self-governance, working collectively without leaders). In the past, he cringed at the rhetoric of such groups as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and Anti-Racist Action, he says. “They often sound like they’re reading from some standard leftist playbook.” Then he ended up in jail, where he met Hells Angels (who couldn’t understand why he was there), as well as other G20 detainees, the classic social justice types that he once maligned. He now thinks he has more in common with them than he had assumed.
Sonne doesn’t plan to lead a quieter life when he gets out. “If I were to back off and shut up, that sort of negates any value of the time I’ve spent in here,” he says. After all, the results of his first national security analysis exceeded his expectations.