Byron Sonne: sacrificial lamb, scapegoat, gadfly

He was clumsy and unlucky, but not a terrorist


The Yiddish language is wonderfully precise when it comes to put-downs. Consider this famous explanation of the difference between a shlemiel and a shlemazl:

“A shlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup; a shlemazl is the person the soup lands on.”

Byron Sonne is a shlemiel and a shlemazl. He is clumsy and unlucky. But he is not a terrorist.

Driven by curiosity, hubris, and a genuine desire for social justice, Sonne poked and prodded the $1.2 billion “security apparatus” of the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto. He wanted to know if it was in fact just “security theater”–an expensive display of pomp and barbed wire that would never thwart an actual terrorist. Simultaneously, he wanted to know if it was too effective, if the heightened atmosphere around the summit meant that police were forgetting people’s rights. And he wanted us to know too, so he documented everything he did.

Sonne, who goes by TorontoGoat on Twitter, offered himself as a sacrificial lamb–a hapless animal who pooped on the cops via the Internet. His experiment was scattershot–he uploaded incendiary political texts of every nature to test if he was being surveilled. He flexed his freedom of speech by calling police “bacon” on Twitter. He tweeted about how the $9.4 million security fence could easily be climbed, but did not exactly say that it should be. All of this would likely have gone unnoticed if @torontogoat hadn’t clomped around the fence perimeter, shooting video. Taking pictures is not a crime, so the cops, unable to charge him with anything, threatened to take him in for jaywalking as an excuse to see his I.D. He complied with this “ruse,” as the authorities themselves have since described it, and that’s what brought the full force of law enforcement down on his head. When the cops finally googled Sonne, they went to town on him. He was surveilled, searched, arrested, questioned for 12 hours without a lawyer, and thrown in jail. Sonne spent 11 months locked up, awaiting bail. During that time his wife (also arrested, charges since dropped) left him.

So there’s your shlemiel–Byron the clumsy. As for the unlucky shlemazl, let’s consider the most serious charges Sonne faces during his trial, which continues today: four counts of “possessing explosive materials.” During their search of his Forest Hill home, police found chemicals that can be used to make explosives. That’s not so unusual–most of us have chemicals in our homes that can be used to make explosives. But actually whipping them up into something volatile may get you into serious trouble. It’s hard to imagine a good reason to do so, unless you’re trying to make some homebrew rocket fuel.

Sonne’s hobby? Model rocketry.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


Byron Sonne: sacrificial lamb, scapegoat, gadfly

  1. Baloney. This clown wasn’t testing anything. He was just clowning around. Social justice? You must be joking. Since when? You are so full of it.

    • Social justice is the last thing on Byrons mind. His capacity for empathy is the same as that of an alligator. Sacrificial lamb? No. More like an unpredictable alligator. ” Things ” like that.

  2. Chalk up yet another gross violation of civic rights during the G20.

    Sure would be nice to see somebody face some consequences, but I am truly without hope that such a thing would ever come to pass.

  3. And after admitting the ruse; After admitting the terrible flaws in the warrant; After admitting the incredible bias and lack of a “Full, Fair and Frank” warrant application; The warrant is allowed to stand as-is.

    This is Canada today, and it is not the Canada you were told it was.

    • I am biased against people who brandish weapons.
      Don’t insult my intelligence.

  4. This was a pretty interesting post Jesse.  I wonder if there is a possible reality TV show in this.  Byron could fly cross country and test airline security. Byron could yell fire in a theatre. Byron could break into the Human and Animal Health Centre in Winnipeg and test the containment protocols.  Byron could visit a nuclear reactor and have plenty of fun.  

    • Excellent thought, StewartSmith.  It occurs to me that if Byron had pulled this “stuff” in the US, he quite likely would be dead….shot by police during one of his “fun but harmless antics.”

  5. This is seriously warped. The scales of justice are flung like a projectile at this guy’s head, while an entire police force had to be cajoled for weeks into finally investigating and laying charges against one of their own for an actual incident of unprovoked violence.

    Torquing toy rocket fuel and Internet taunting into a terrorism case is an absurd abuse of power.

    Has Canada been turned into Brazil the movie?

  6. This man spent 11 months in jail already and the evidence they have against him is pathetic. They had a picture of him (that he posted on the internet) firing a potato cannon – they prosecution claimed it was something “you just don’t buy at Canadian Tire.”.  No – you buy the parts at any plumbing shop. PVC pipe and fittings. Hair spray can be used as a propellent.

    The G20 fiasco continues to unfold.  Byron Sonne (jailed 11 months), Gary McCullough (jailed 6 months and acquitted), Dorian Barton (severely beaten, charges dropped) and so many others who suffered appalling treatment.

    No one has taken responsibility, no one has admitted to mistakes, and no guarantees at all that this will not happen again.  I have become more fearful of the police in Canada than of the criminals Harper wants to keep in jail for a bit longer.

  7. Why is it hard to believe that he might have been whipping those chemicals into something volatile just because it was fun? 

  8. On the non-political part of your commentary, the more-accurate way to transcribe the Yiddish word is “shlimazl.” The first syllable is cognate with the English “slim,” so spelling it “shlem” is a prima facie error.

  9. The title of this posting omitted one noun which describes Mr. Sonne quite succinctly: idiot.

  10. Also, how on earth is it unlucky to purposely do things to attract the attention of the police, as he openly admits to doing?

    If he’s going to jump up and down and say NOTICE ME, it’s not really “unlucky” when he is noticed…

  11. Just watched the full video with the police and umm, do you really believe that it’s just coincidence that he has all of those hobbies?  Just bad luck and chance?

    How about the bit where he says he’s an amateur farmer and that’s why he’s collecting the chemicals?  How about later on when he says that the ammonium nitrate that he had was extracted from cold packs he bought at the pharmacy and he’s using that for his fertilizer experiments??

    All of his explanations for what he had seem pretty obviously pre thought out and preplanned to me.

    • I watched the interrogation video and I think the guy is TOTALLY INNOCENT!!!!!!!!!!!! He is just some kind of Mythbusters geek. If he really was plotting anything with G20 his hobby materials would have had to have been in a much more advanced state of preparation,  there simply would not have been enough time to use them as the paranoid police imagined

      • I admit, I don’t believe that he was planning to use any of the materials he had to disrupt the G20.  However I am extremely concerned by the amount of materials he had, his obsession with explosives, chemicals and weaponry.  It really does look to me like he had pre-planned alibies for everything he had, and that’s kind of freaky.

        I also know that he is into this stuff because it’s fun, and that freaks me out even more to be honest.  There doesn’t seem to be much of an “off” switch there.  

        • You can have a free country where once in a blue moon bad stuff happens or you can live in police state under constant surveillance and permanently  surrender your freedom. Or be locked up for 11 months without bail because of the state’s paranoia. Pick one.

          • BTW you ever watch Mythbusters on TV ? Lots of people seem to have an  “obsession with explosives, chemicals and weaponry.” it’s a totally mainstream form of entertainment these days and it’s made a couple of Hollywood special effects shlups very rich!

          • Well then the question is where do you draw the line?  And I don’t have an answer to that.   The only place to find that answer is in the courts and I’m relieved that it’s there.

            I’m uncomfortable with the fact that he was purposely trying to be noticed by the police, that he was purposely collecting household chemicals *because* they could be used in explosives and that (to me at least) it seems that he was clearly spending time and energy to come up with alibies for why he had each one of them.  Amateur farmer!!!  give me a break!

          • I don’t have to pick one.  There are an infinite number of other options between those two.   Also it didn’t take constant surveillance to find Byron.  He was admittedly trying hard to be noticed. 

            I think what happened at the G20 was outrageous, but sometimes there are situations where I really believe that the police should investigate and this is one of them.  I’ve been worried about what he was doing for a long time, and I think the police would have been concerned about his actions eventually, with or without the G20.

            What bothers me the most about his supporters is that you are all trying to make the normal canadians paranoid that anyone can come after them at any time, and I can’t see that it’s true in this situation.

          • That’s like saying there are a bunch of scary dudes, probably drug dealers on some street corner, that might be planning a some kind of gang hit, only a matter of time. Well then lets just arrest them, put them in jail for 11 months without bail, bankrupt their parents, tell the public and their families a bunch of lies and conjecture while we figure this all out.

            You are way way out there ms d2 and its sad how you don’t even realize it.I hope you enjoy the police state that is coming your way with people like you paving the way. I can smell the Orwellian pre-crime  from here.

          • It’s more like saying that a crazy dude goes out and buys all of the legal elements of a meth lab, sets them up suspiciously in his basement, then goes out on the street corner and acts purposely suspicious to get the police’s attention cause he’s proud that he’s going to outsmart them, then bankrupts his parents with the legal confusion.

            In that case it would just be weird and pathetic, in this case it’s about explosives and weaponry, so it starts getting scary.

          • The more I reflect on your statements, the more contemptuous I get. Do you understand that this is a TRIAL, not an INVESTIGATION. Do you know the difference? And as for being outraged at G-20, do do realize that  many normal Canadians were in fact arbitrarily arrested? You ought to be paranoid and educate yourself, read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Pay close attention to the rise part.

  12. I think that there’s a more appropriate Yiddish word: “schmuck”.

  13. Beautifully written, without any doubt. But that does not prove innocence. I do not want to accuse the guy, but the fact he was not in Fishing but in rocket fuels screams: How convenient.. wife left him… hm.. maybe there is reason for it.. so instead of bringing up tears you brought more questions against the guy.. And if he was only seeking publicity and popularity, aren’t we all tired of those who will even shoot in the school to gain some publicity.. There should be clear legal action against those who claim insanity or stupidity while very intelligently staging actions following their own agenda.   

    • C-one, total total crap, How in hell would you know why his wife left, could be a million reasons ! If there was anything sinister about it, don’t you think she would have evidence to provide? What is it? Where is it? Just step off.

  14. If he didn’t actual do anything wrong, nor intended to do anything wrong then the police are, once again, vindictively, maliciously abusing there authority.

  15. ” Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedom from the opinions of others…even the opinions of yourself? ” Col. Walter E. Kurtz

    ” I’ve seen the horror, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me.It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” – Col. Walter E. Kurtz

    ” And what would his people back home want if they ever learned just how far from them he’d really gone? He broke from them, and then he broke from himself. I’d never seen a man so broken up and ripped apart… ” – Willard

    ” Because there’s a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. ” General Corman

Sign in to comment.