Silencing Online Activism: From “Officer Bubbles” to “Free Byron”

maple leaf leaning right

[This is an expanded version of the comment I posted to the CBC’s online article Toronto’s ‘Officer Bubbles’ sues YouTube. Of course, it’s subject to moderation and I have had many comments well within stated CBC guidelines declined. So I decided to post this here as it’s too important an issue to let slip through the cracks.]

The calls for an Inquiry into the G8/G20 debacle aren’t going away, they are getting louder.

What level of ridicule is reasonable?

A great many Canadian citizens (not to mention a great many international Internet users) witnessed Officer Bubbles attempting to intimidate a protester. And although the protester complied— she put down her dangerous bottle of soap bubbles— within moments she was arrested anyway.
[View this video in OGG format:]

L - R Bubble blowing female protester stands in front of Female officer,  Male camera wielding protester stands directly in front of Officer Adam Josephs
Clearly Officer Bubbles knew he was on camera

There were cameras everywhere.

Officer Bubbles certainly knew he was being recorded when he took his stand. The protester
with a camera stood directly in front of him—
close enough to reach out and touch.

And Officer Bubbles had his 15 minutes of fame.

But now Officer Bubbles wants to protect himself from harassment?

reports: ‘Pay me $1.2M’ Officer Bubbles tells YouTube

A National Post article lauds this lawsuit, believing Officer Bubbles’ attempt to intimidate by lawsuits is a blow for… accountability?

Will the courts allow citizens to be stripped of the right to comment anonymously? If you make an anonymous comment expressing your disagreement with a situation like this, can you be sued? Is an opinion slander? Or since it’s published online libel?

Anonymity can be a powerful tool for good. Whistleblowers can leak information that their consciences dictate ought to be public which often serves the public good.

Must we guard our opinions, and take care not to voice them for fear of litigation?

Using lawsuits to squash the cartoons that ensued is a terrible precedent for the future of free speech and free expression in Canada.   It’s interesting to note that Officer Bubbles is not attempting to take down the video. After all, it really happened.

The fact is he spoke and acted, knowing he was being filmed.   Performing his professional duties as an officer of the law, on a public street, as a matter of public record. Officer Bubbles is a public servant interacting with a member of the public.   In this context, Officer Bubbles should be no more immune from depiction in political cartoons than the Mayor or the Prime Minister?

June 2010 poster: Toronto Resist G8/20
Many citizens protested the G8/G20

I must have dozed off at the part where they made political cartoons illegal in Canada. Is that in Bill C-32?

silencing dissent before it happens

Meanwhile, there is another protester that there is no video for.

This protester was arrested before he even had a chance to protest the G8/G20 — before it even began — apparently on the basis of Twitter remarks which led to a search warrant. The result is that Byron Sonne was arrested, and languishes in jail some four months later, denied bail by a Justice of the Peace.

Malcolm Gladwell may not believe in online activism, but Canadian police services take it seriously.

A Justice of the Peace isn’t a lawyer, or a judge.   This is a political appointment. I have to wonder if a Justice of the Peace, an appointed position not requiring formal legal education, is the right person to be making decisions about who is or is not entitled to bail?   It’s bad enough that in criminal offenses, the decision as to whether a defendant can walk free between accusation and trial may fall victim to a JP’s personal bias.
But to have political appointees ruling on the liberty of those accused of political offenses during peaceful protests is simply ludicrous.   A Justice of the Peace appointed by the government of the day can hardly be expected to be impartial, especially in cases of political dissent.

Many laws have built in latitude enabling them to cover a range of infractions. There is certainly latitude in every one of the charges brought against Byron Sonne, allowing the exercise of a great deal of discretion.
This certainly becomes an issue in a world where a soap bubble is adjudged a weapon by the forces of Canadian law enforcement.

There can be no democracy without dissent.

Peaceful protest is legal in Canada … isn’t it?
Or has dissent become a criminal offense?

Free Byron


12 thoughts on “Silencing Online Activism: From “Officer Bubbles” to “Free Byron”

  1. Purchasing TATP explosives is NOT a political activism engagement. TATP was the same stuff Richard Reid, the shoebomber used in his attempt to destroy an aircraft. He is known to plant bombs Laurel. This is not a secret, it was published by Canadian newspapers at the time of his arrest.

    And about the bubble cop- look at the video. The video did not end when the cop touched the lens. That was a hard edit by the person who had the video tape, so the intervening minutes were deliberately omitted-

    Dont make a leap to conclusions without acknowledging the facts in either of these cases. You are like a little girl sticking her fingers in her ears screaming LALALA because you dont like what you see or hear. Time to grow up.

    • @BelchSpeak
      The first line of your previous comment was :

      “Byron Sonne is in jail because he purchased TATP explosives over the
      internet deliberately to provoke the police into arresting him.

                          —BelchSpeak, October 19, 2010 at 1:32

      THAT would be an act of political activism. Byron Sonne is not Richard Reid.

      I have looked at the Officer Bubbles tape. I am quite able to recognize an edit. When a heavily armed riot police officer puts his hand over the lens of the camera at the end of a high tension interview, it tends to be prudent to stop filming.

      I am not the one leaping to conclusions. I have made a few speculations based on the available evidence.

      I do not pretend to have all the facts.

      The facts I do have are that Byron Sonne has been charged, but not convicted of anything. Unless and until he is actually convicted of anything, he should not have to serve years in jail.

  2. Byron Sonne is in jail because he purchased TATP explosives over the internet deliberately to provoke the police into arresting him. The same man planted fake bombs in his school as a kid. You cannot expect to have free speech when you deliberately ignore the truth about what it is you are trying to speak about. Byron was not denied bail because of his political stance. He was denied bail because he is a flight risk or a risk to society at large.

    And yeah, that officer was over the line about the bubbles assault, but if the camera deliberately hides what it was she did to get arrested, you cannot claim it was because she blew bubbles at the cop.

    • Lacking information due to the publicity ban, there is no way I can know or verify the truth of what you say constitutes the “explosives.”

      If Byron Sonne did do this to deliberately provoke the police to arrest him, that right there indicates he is not a danger to society. Purchasing explosives to blow up people or property would be reason to lock up someone without bail.

      If what you is true, it certainly sounds like Byron Sonne was engaging in political activism to me.

      And I must completely disagree with you, because I certainly can expect to have free speech.

      That’s one very good reason for living in a democracy.

      Something that makes free speech such a thorny issue is that we have to weigh the merit of what people say.

      Interestingly, the recording stops when Officer Bubbles lifts his hand to cover the camera lens. There is no way for *anyone* who was not there to know why she was arrested. Still, having dealt with bullies, I am inclined to think it was the bubbles in the absence of any evidence.

      What is very clear is Officer Bubbles’ body language when he realizes that the arrest is being filmed.

  3. There’s more.

    Alex Hundredt was jailed and released on bail under the condition that he not speak to media and not engage in ANY kind of political activity. His fundamental right of participating in political activities has been denied. From Silencing Alex Hundert

    And then I found this, completely out of context. I’d love to know more of the story behind this, and the outcome:

    TinyOGG video: G20 Toronto Police State – Police fire muzzle blast at woman and peaceful protesters (YouTube page)


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