[This week’s Inconstant Moon special feature won’t appear before the weekend, since I’ve trekked to Toronto to see the Closing arguments at G20 Activist Byron Sonne’s trial. I’m not a lawyer, but I am certainly interested. The Crown prosecution put in a mind numbing day yesterday, listing every bit of circumstantial evidence they’ve amassed.]
Malcolm Gladwell should have been in Courtroom 2-2 at 361 University Avenue yesterday to see the consternation and confusion caused by Twitter in the halls of justice. It is clear that the Canadian legal system is trying to come to grips with the social media tools used by activists everywhere these days. Maybe Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” should be required reading for lawyers and law enforcement.
Byron’s behaviour is incomprehensible to Crown Attorney Elizabeth Nadeau. She throws around words like “obsessive”, alleging that Byron was obsessive about guns, yet in a thorough search the only guns found were potato guns. I have never heard of any crime being committed with one of these things. They are perfectly legal and obviously there is a market for them if you can order them online.
Sure they are projectile weapons, but are also large and unwieldly… kind of like the trebuchets I’ve seen small children demonstrate at local medieval festivals. People build trebuchets in 21st century Canada, even though there are no castles to storm here in Southern Ontario. People do this because it is fun to find out how things work… and there is no better way to find that out than by doing.
The bulk of the “evidence” seems to be that Byron had a chemicals in his house. He was very careful to have only legally allowed quantities of chemicals. So he had the ingredients for explosives but no explosives. Byron was very careful to know what was allowed and to stay within the law. Yet the crown argues that his awareness of the law, and the care he took to know what was and was not allowed is somehow nefarious. In his career as a security consultant, Byron would necessarily be aware of existing laws and make sure to stay within them in order to maintain required license certifications.
She also doesn’t see any possible use for the chemicals beyond building explosives. She talked about Byron’s computer as a “biography” but doesn’t see that the evidence shows a clear interest in chemistry which greatly predates Byron’s concern with the G20. This is not unusual either. People have been interested in chemistry – and explosions for centuries. We celebrate Canada Day by shooting off fireworks. And in fact, many ordinary people buy fireworks and shoot them off in their back yards year round because they think it’s fun. Hollywood movies blow things up regularly, because it is fun.
Like many, Byron had a chemistry set as a kid. For Byron this seems to have kindled a life long interest in chemistry. The crown finds it is suspect that Byron’s chemicals were neatly organized and labeled. Frankly, I find that to be a reassuring demonstration of the care that Byron took to be safe.
The crown contended Byron’s interest in rocketry was a cover for his G20 activities, on the assumption he was putting rocket fuel before the rocket. Yet there was no real world space program before there was rocket fuel. There is no point in building a rocket until you know you can launch it. The Crown points out that he had no rocket parts at all. Yet I’ve learned through this trial that before building a rocket, you need to have certifications and licenses, particularly for the kind of rocket that Byron was interested in building. Byron Sonne made a point of not exceeding the scope of what he was legally allowed to do.
Judge Spies suggestion of a field trip to Toronto Hacklab would have been brilliant, as it might provide the Crown some insight into the kind of people who dabble in technology, the people who make things, and spend time trying to figure out how things work, for no reason beyond satisfying curiosity… because it’s fun. As would watching a couple of episodes of “Big Bang Theory,” a comedy series with good portrayals of a group innovative thinkers.
If this is what happens to intelligent inquisitive individuals, perhaps we should stop giving our children chemistry sets. Perhaps parents need to discourage innovative thinking. Look what can happenving existing technology.
The problem here is that the Crown started with the premise that Byron is a terrorist and has been working backward to try to make mountains of information fit the theory. Although that’s a reasonable process for me to follow as a fiction writer, it isn’t exactly the scientific method, and doesn’t seem the right way for the justice system to proceed.
Especially with Byron’s liberty hanging in the balance.