POLITICS
04/13/2012 10:31 EDT | Updated 06/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Crown 'reaching' with new evidence at explosives trial of G20 activist

TORONTO - The prosecution portrayal of last week's highly publicized chemical find in the backyard of a G20 activist was a grasping attempt to back its allegation the accused was bent on making bombs, the defence argued Friday.

Instead, lawyers for Byron Sonne argued, the potassium chlorate police found amid much media fanfare last week bolsters his claim he only wanted to make hobby-rocket fuel.

"This trial is about explosives, not about toxic substances put in the backyard," lawyer Joe Di Luca told the court.

"How far are we reaching at this stage to make evidence fit against Mr. Sonne?"

Days after the judge had retired to consider her verdict, police acting on trial submissions unearthed a yellow pail in the yard of Sonne's former home, and, as TV cameras rolled, spent a day burning it.

The bucket under a camouflage net contained three plastic jars with 1.7 kilograms of potassium chlorate — a toxic but not normally explosive chemical also found inside Sonne's house almost two years ago.

In a highly unusual step, the Crown sought to re-open its case given police and prosecutors had somehow overlooked information about the buried chemical.

"He was clearly stockpiling potassium chlorate (which) strikes at the very core of his contention that he was simply doing research into the production of rocket fuel," Crown lawyer Liz Nadeau told court.

"The very manner in which it was hidden under a military camouflage suggests a nefarious purpose."

Di Luca heaped scorn on the prosecution's claims.

"I'm not sure how one could ever draw a 'nefarious purpose' from the fact that a piece of camouflage netting is placed over a bucket in his backyard," Di Luca said.

"Possessing this stuff may be unwise, may be foolish ... (but) the mere possession cannot automatically take you to an explosive."

Sonne was arrested just before the tumultuous G20 summit in June 2010. Initially portrayed by police as a budding terrorist, he spent 11 months in jail before winning bail.

Police found no bombs but alleged he planned to combine his chemicals into improvised explosives.

Sonne, who said he was trying to expose flaws in summit security, maintains the materials were for his rocketry hobby, and that he openly discussed his plans.

"These are folks who like experimenting, like tinkering, like playing with things," Di Luca said. "If you're building bombs, why talk about all of this stuff publicly?"

Nadeau also said Sonne was obviously following a manual he had downloaded on storing explosives by burying the bucket.

"This storage method is specific for explosives," she said. "Not hazardous materials, not rocket fuel."

Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies had difficulty with some of Nadeau's arguments. She agreed with Di Luca that one Crown claim was "a real stretch," another illogical.

At one point, Nadeau said she was not trying to suggest Sonne had buried the potassium chlorate "in a manner that might explode," just that he didn't post a warning sign.

"How does that help me decide this case?" Spies asked.

"It doesn't," Nadeau conceded.

The defence agreed to allow the evidence of last week's find — a brief statement of facts and seven photographs — rather than take up any more court time.

Still, Spies had "grave reservations" she could now meet her own verdict deadline of April 23.

"I haven't ruled out the possibility that I'll get it done," she said. "I am hopeful."