Unlike its southern neighbour and many of its European allies, Canada has been fortunate to escape a major terrorist attack in recent months. Canada had experienced 2 terrorist attacks in October 2014, but both were relatively limited in scope and resulted in only two deaths. However, on August 10th, the threat of terrorism was once again made apparent. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued an urgent memo warning of an imminent terrorist attack. They included a photo of a masked individual, but did not provide further details. It later emerged that the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx (an agency of the Ontario Government) were alerted that Union Station in downtown Toronto could be a possible target. According to August 11th media reports, the RCMP alert was based on information originally provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The seriousness of the alert was underlined by a deadly confrontation between police and an ISIS sympathizer in the afternoon of August 10th. According to senior RCMP officials, the individual was armed with 2 explosive devices, one of which he detonated during the confrontation with police. Police had originally intercepted the suspect after he entered a taxi outside his house. The suspect was ultimately shot and killed by a police counter-terrorism team. In a later news conference, the RCMP identified the man as 24 year-old Aaron Driver, the son of a Canadian military officer. According to some reports, Driver had requested to be driven to a mall in London, Ontario, near a Canadian military recruitment centre and a bus depot. It remains unclear what Driver’s ultimate intended target was.
In subsequent media reports, Aaron Driver has been described as someone both previously known to Canadian police and also emotionally vulnerable to radicalization. His family house burned down at age 4, his mother died of cancer in 1999 and his father moved the family frequently in his job with the Canadian Armed Forces. Driver reportedly converted to Islam at the age of 17 though the exact details of his radicalization remain unclear. He was first identified as a concern for Canadian intelligence officials after tweeting videos that advocated for ISIS’s ideology. The RCMP began an investigation around the autumn of 2014 that culminated in Driver’s arrest in Winnipeg in June 2015. Subsequent investigations revealed that his laptop contained instructions for building explosives. Driver was placed under a Peace Bond and moved in with his sister in the town of Strathroy in south-western Ontario.
Further details on the original alert and the fatal incident continue to emerge. The broader context will likely still take time to be established. However, it serves as an important reminder. Despite being under the strict conditions of a Peace Bond, Aaron Driver had the ability to build explosive devices, with the clear intent of endangering the public. As with several recent cases in France, Aaron Driver was clearly identified as an ISIS supporter. The August 10th incident clearly shows the limitations of a Peace Bond’s conditions. As with many countries, Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies face the difficult task of trying to identify when radical sympathizers have decided to escalate to acts of violence. In addition, it will be interesting to see if this incident has any impact on the political debate surrounding amendments to the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51). The current Liberal Government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pledged to amend the legislation. So far, however, no significant changes have been made and a shift in public opinion could possibly shape the reform that eventually takes place.