The high-achieving pair accused of a deadly plan

Friday, June 25, 2010 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

TORONTO — Byron Sonne and Kristen Peterson are life partners leading very different lives.

Mr. Sonne is a computer expert whose job is to delve deep into the realm of complex electronic security networks; in his spare time, he frequents “hackerspaces” and derides the way people are monitored in their everyday lives.

Ms. Peterson’s world is more creative: A visual artist with multiple degrees under her belt, she has become known for creating multimedia installations that make normal structures – a wall, a doorway – seem like what they’re not.

If he’s the daredevil hacker, she’s the one neighbours see gardening, who ensures he comes home on time. Now both are accused of planning potentially deadly attacks.

Mr. Sonne and Ms. Peterson are accused of planning ambitious, potentially deadly attacks just as Toronto launches headlong into the largest security undertaking in its history.

The charges police laid out against the couple this week accuse both of collecting ingredients to make powerful explosives commonly associated with terrorist bombings, as well as possessing potato guns with the aim of endangering the public. Mr. Sonne is also accused of mischief and two rare charges of intimidating members of the justice system.

The couple made brief appearances in the same courtroom within 24 hours of each other this week. Bail hearings for each have been pushed back to Saturday to accommodate a continuing police investigation. Uniformed officers have been clustered around their house since Tuesday afternoon, much to the bemusement of neighbours on the treed residential street; they say they know nothing of the couple save for their breathtaking front garden.

But friends of both Mr. Sonne and Ms. Peterson say they’re convinced the charges stem from an innocent prank – an academic experiment gone awry.

Mr. Sonne, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (although his certification has been suspended now that he faces criminal charges), who has worked at Webkinz, nCircle Network Security and FSC Internet, isn’t the only security expert in the family: John Peterson, Ms. Peterson’s father, owned Digital Security Controls Ltd., an electronic security company that was later bought by Tyco International. He holds multiple alarm-system patents.

Mr. Sonne’s views on security and surveillance are no secret: His Twitter feed over the past several days was replete with counter-surveillance tips, taking careful note of flaws in G20 summit security measures as fences and CCTV cameras went up around downtown Toronto. His Flickr account documents, in painstaking photographic detail, cameras, fencing and barricades.

Mr. Sonne’s musings about testing the limits and vigilance of security organizations predate the G20, said Seth Hardy, a former member of HackLab T.O. – a community hackerspace based in Kensington Market. Nothing illegal, Mr. Hardy insists, but buying potentially suspicious material and “seeing if anything came about.”

But the onset of the summit “really changed things,” Mr. Hardy said. “It raised the stakes a lot.”

In posts on a HackLab T.O forum as far back as last fall, he said he had “ordered all sorts of lab equipment and chemical precursors in an attempt to purposefully raise flags and get ‘the man’ to take a look at me… but no luck. Everything’s arrived with minimal delay, I’ve successfully passed several police and RCMP background checks for various licenses, crossed into the USA multiple times with zero hassle … so draw your own conclusions.”

Shortly after news of Mr. Sonne’s arrest came out, one of the first thing former his fellow HackLab member said was, “his wife is going to be very, very angry for quite some time.”

Which made him doubly shocked to find out early the next morning that she faced charges as well. “She’s known as being the person who takes care of Byron – the person to make sure he didn’t stay out all night,” he said.

Both come from well-off families in the Toronto area: Ms. Peterson’s father holds the $1.1-million mortgage on the couple’s Forest Hill home, which was raided by police on Tuesday. Mr. Sonne’s parents, who live in Brampton, Ont., own a property in Tiny Township, the bucolic Muskoka town where police conducted a subsequent search the next day in search of further evidence.

Ms. Peterson has been both a student and instructor at the Toronto School of Art and the University of Toronto’s visual arts program, where she earned a Master’s degree and taught an advanced tutorial. She has had exhibitions at the Stantec Window Gallery, the Convenience Gallery and the city’s Spadina Museum, where she was an artist in residence in 2006.

Neither Mr. Sonne’s parents nor Ms. Peterson’s would comment.

With reports from Sarah Boesveld and Celia Donnelly

******

COURTROOM CLOSED FOR ACCUSED BOMBMAKER

The public was shut out of the Finch Avenue courtroom where Kristen Peterson appeared briefly Thursday afternoon before being remanded into custody until a Saturday bail hearing.

One of the wooden benches near the rear, left-hand corner of the small courtroom, which has been designated for use in G20-related cases, is too close to the door where prisoners are being led in and out and posed a security risk, said Justice of the Peace Diane M. McAleer. She said as long as the audiovisual feed in the adjoining room was functional, it was “a reasonable location for the media.”

Several of the approximately 10 journalists present complained they were unable to hear much of the proceedings, and saw only a fuzzy outline of Ms. Peterson as the 37-year-old rose to speak with the justice of the peace before being escorted out, hands behind her back. Court artists hoping to sketch the accused were especially upset.

Crown attorney Vincent Paris said he plans to see if anything can be worked out before Ms. Peterson and Byron Sonne are scheduled to appear on Saturday.

Globe and Mail lawyer Peter Jacobsen said he hopes to see the situation remedied “immediately.”

“The courts have a constitutional obligation to be as open and transparent as possible and this is particularly so where public interest issues such as the G20 arrests are being dealt with,” he said.

“Preventing reporters from being physically present for bail hearings relating to the G20 arrests and intentionally confining the media to a spillover room with faulty audio and visual facilities is a clear abrogation of the media’s constitutional right of access to court processes.”

Anna Mehler Paperny

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