05/15/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Byron Sonne Trial: Toronto G20 Activist Acquitted


TORONTO - A security geek once portrayed by police as a budding terrorist flashed victory signs Tuesday after his acquittal on charges of possessing explosives ahead of the G20 summit marred by violence and mass arrests.

Despite his two-year ordeal, which included 11 months in jail following his arrest two years ago, an ecstatic Byron Sonne said he would continue to "test" the system.

"I'm not going to stop," a trembling Sonne, 39, said after his exoneration.

"It's more important than ever that we fight against the slippery slope of what's being done with our rights, against our ability to participate how we see fit."

Sonne was arrested in the days before the June 2010 summit. Although police found no bombs, he was charged with four counts of possessing explosives and one of counselling mischief.

Police alleged he planned to combine the myriad neatly labelled legal chemicals he had at his upscale home into explosives, and that he incited others to scale or tear down the three-metre security fence erected around the main downtown summit site.

"You guys are making me look like some kind of terrorist or something," he told police after his arrest.

In her 87-page judgment that took almost two hours to read, Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies accepted Sonne's claims the chemicals police seized could have been used in pursuit of his rocketry hobby, for camping or for gardening.

Spies, who called the Crown's case "entirely circumstantial," noted Sonne had been open in numerous Internet exchanges about his intentions to test the $1-billion G20 security setup.

She rejected the Crown's contention that Sonne's interest in rocketry was an elaborate ruse to hide his nefarious intentions.

"There was no need to make any alibi this elaborate," Spies said. "If Mr. Sonne needed an alibi, he'd never have gone public in the first place."

Sonne's various statements to police were largely consistent and credible, Spies said.

She called him intelligent, methodical and safety conscious about the potentially dangerous substances he had in the home he shared with his artist wife, Kristen Peterson, who was also arrested although charges against her were dropped.

Sonne, the judge said, felt "very strongly" about his wife.

"I do not believe he would have done anything to risk injury to her or worse," Spies said.

The couple has since split up, something Sonne noted poignantly after the verdict.

"It would be nice to walk out of the courthouse into her arms, but that's just not going to happen."

Sonne has been living with his parents, who regularly attended the proceedings, as did several supporters who considered him a political prisoner.

Cheers erupted in the courtroom after Spies concluded, and Sonne raised his hands and looked up, as if thanking God.

"I'm absolutely thrilled — I'm just shaking. I wanted to cry and jump up and scream," his mother Valerie Sonne said.

"I knew he was innocent but I was just not sure what was going to happen."

University of Toronto Prof. Andrew Clement said Sonne's actions may not have been "prudent," but he called the verdict a "terrific judgment."

Spies' ruling was a clear endorsement Sonne was testing the intrusive security setup, he said.

"It restores a kind of faith in the basics of the justice system that have been so impaired in this war on terror and securitization that we saw in such evidence around the G20," Clement said.

"He's done us all an enormous favour."

Prosecutor Liz Nadeau had portrayed Sonne as someone obsessed with explosives and the summit, who was anarchist-friendly, and wanted to "stick it to the system."

But defence lawyer Joe Di Luca said there was no evidence Sonne had any intention to disrupt or harm anything or anyone related to the G20.

At the same time, he acknowledged the pressure police were under in arresting Sonne, who used social media to post scores of photographs of officers, the security fence and surveillance cameras.

"The police had a real concern," Di Luca said. "They had to react given the dynamics of the G20."

Sonne, who was "totally high on happiness," said the judgment freed him to again be "a moron" on the Internet. He said he wanted to get his life and career back on track.

But he was adamant the mammoth security apparatus around the G20 was little more than "nanny-state" theatrics.

"They want people to think they're safe when they're not actually safe," he said.

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