When I attended a few days of Byron Sonne’s preliminary hearing last year I met his parents and a few of his friends. But not Byron, since he had been denied bail and was in still in custody. I only saw him ushered in and out of the court room in handcuffs. And it was clearly breaking his mother’s heart that she wasn’t allowed to talk to him even though he was only a few feet away.
Although we corresponded, I never actually met Byron until I attended the first day of the closing arguments at his trial on Thursday. Byron warned me that the Crown’s closing argument would try to make him look bad, yet it seemed to me Crown Attorney Nadeau spent a great deal of time proving the hollowness of her case.
“To begin, if you’re taking anyone’s life, and reducing it to a number of exhibits, there’s not going to be a unifying theme.”
— Joe Di Luca
The Crown has the masses of documents on computers seized in Byron’s home, including computer “bookmarks”, the names of files posted to torrent sites, and Byron’s words and images posted on the internet, in email, electronic mailing lists, IRC chats and even more publicly in forums like Twitter and Flickr.
And the Crown had the testimony of Dr. Anderson, an expert witness who knows how to transform common household chemicals into explosives. Nor is there any argument Byron Sonne had a home laboratory which included chemicals that could be used to make explosives.
One chemical cited with trepidation was potassium permanganate. Like the Crown Attorney, I didn’t have a chemistry set growing up, so my own experience with chemistry is limited to baking. But my husband’s parents bought him a chemistry set when he was ten years old, and one of the standard chemicals it came with was potassium permanganate.
Another thing that concerned the Crown was that Byron removed chemicals he purchased from their packaging and stored them in his home laboratory without marking them with warning labels.
I have no trouble understanding taking materials out of original packaging because I do the same thing. When I buy beads to hand craft Christmas ornaments, the first thing I do when I get them home is take them out of the packaging and store them with my other craft supplies.
The second concern strikes me as being a little ridiculous. Byron’s laboratory was in his home, not some place frequented by random members of the public requiring supervision or warning. The only other person resident in the home was Byron’s wife, who would have been well aware that the lab contained dangerous chemicals.
Dr. Anderson can only testify that it was possible the chemicals could be made into explosives. But in and of themselves, none of the chemicals Byron had, in the quantities he had, were illegal. If the only possible use for any of them was bomb creation, wouldn’t they have been banned?
Dr. Anderson is an expert, of course, because as the head of Military Engineering for Defence Research and Development Canada, he spends his days figuring out which ordinary household products can be turned into dangerous bombs. Expert or no, I can’t imagine that this wouldn’t also lead to bias on the good doctor’s part. Clearly, Byron isn’t the only one interested in chemistry.
“We have to start with the presumption of innocence. There is a human tendency to look at narrative and make the facts fit. We must guard against that.”
— Joe Di Luca
Finally the Crown rested, and Joe Di Luca began to speak in Byron’s defence, beginning with the presumption of innocence, an integral element of our criminal justice system. He talked about how easy it is to overlook this presumption in any prosecution. (As has clearly happened here.)
Christopher Olah’s notes are far superior to mine, so I very much recommend his notes for a good unofficial summation of Mr. Di Luca’s excellent defence argument.
Mr Di Luca argued that Byron was telling the truth all the time. (The Crown argument relies on his truthfulness only when convenient for the Crown case.) The Crown has no trouble accepting that Byron is aware law enforcement might be listening, and that he has the skills necessary to proceed covertly. Yet he didn’t.
Byron made purchases using his own name and credit card. Openly.
Mr. Di Luca points out that as the G20 approached, Byron publicly told people that he wanted to monitor the police, and document and disseminate the results. Talking to friends, acquaintances and strangers, making security presentations, using IRC chats, email, Twitter, YouTube, Byron’s stated intent was testing the system, or “tickling the dragon.”
And as Mr. Di Luca so eloquently put it:
“And he did tickle it, and it breathed fire all over him,
and now he’s before this court.”
In the days leading up to the G20, Mr. Di Luca points out that Byron was not combining chemicals into explosives, but instead walking the fence line, taking photographs of G20 security cameras and drawing the police attention that resulted in his arrest.
But for me, the Perry Mason moment was when Mr. Di Luca asked,
“Why would Mr. Sonne engage in making four different kinds of explosives?”
— Joe Di Luca
If Byron ever had any intention of bombing the G20, why would he need four different types of explosive material? Each would require its own elaborate and dangerous process. To actually build a bomb, any one would be more than sufficient. You might be able to make a case for two, so a second type could provide an alternate. But four? That makes no sense at all.
Unless, of course, the reason for assembling the chemicals was to search out the flaws in the system.
“Maybe, just maybe, he’s telling the truth.”
— Joe Di Luca
As the fictional Doctor House would say, “That explains everything.”
a writer’s take
I find it interesting that the Crown assumes Byron’s interest in rocketry is merely a “cover’ or a “ruse” because it appears inconsistent with other facts they have about him. As a novelist, one who has both studied and struggled with understanding human behaviour, I have to tell you that this kind of inconsistency is precisely the kind of thing that any fictional character must have in order to be believable.
Because real people are inconsistent. We all harbour ambivalence and hold mutually contradictory opinions. And our opinions can be different on different days of the week, or in alternate seasons. And the opinions we have can change based on new information, or if we are jolted by an external stimulus.
Nothing in Byron’s past — from his political dabbling, his family background, his marriage, his work, his interests, his community or his life — suggest the slightest motivation for terrorist bombing. If Byron was a fictional character, it simply would not be believable that he would step out of his comfortable life to bomb the G20 or anything else.
It is equally unbelievable in the real world.
Even if something catastrophic happened to rock his world, I still wouldn’t give these charges credence. Because of his parents. And perhaps even more, because of the support he continues to receive from his community.
The people who know him best believe in him. And that’s a fact.
The trial will resume Monday, April 2nd, at 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 2-2 at 361 University Avenue, Toronto.