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.