Aaron Driver defends ISIS, attack on Parliament, but denies he's a threat
'They had it coming to them. They deserved it,' says Winnipeg ISIS supporter of attacks in Canada
Aaron Driver doesn't consider himself a terror threat and doesn't think Canadians should fear him, despite the Winnipeg man's justification of the attacks on police and military members here at home.
"I think if a country goes to war with another country, or another people or another community, they have to be prepared for things like that to happen," Driver said in a nearly 90-minute phone conversation with CBC News.
"And when it does happen, they shouldn't act surprised. They had it coming to them. They deserved it."
Driver was arrested near his home in Winnipeg's Charleswood neighbourhood on June 4 and detained for eight days. RCMP took his custom-made computer, phone, flash drives and Qur'an.
RCMP want a peace bond against him, saying they consider him a terror threat.
Court documents said Driver "will participate in, or contribute to, directly or indirectly, the activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity, pursuant to S.810.01 of the Criminal Code."
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Driver caught the attention of CSIS in October 2014 when he was tweeting his support for ISIS. That activity landed him on a watch list.
The 23-year-old regularly shared his views on social media, and he was regularly shut down by Twitter for doing so.
He calls the Oct. 22 attack in Ottawa "retaliation" and the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo "justified" for Canada's role in bombing Muslims in Syria and Iraq.
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"These are not attacks on malls or any kind of public place, like churches. These are attacks on police officers and these are attacks on soldiers. These are people who are part of the system. It's entirely different," Driver said.
"That's my opinion, those are my personal beliefs, and I don't think my opinions or the things I've said online have had a direct impact on anyone else or that I've inspired anyone to carry out any kind of attack or anything like that. So I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
He added, "I think the big issue is I'm a Canadian living in Canada, and I'm OK with soldiers or police officers being targeted for what they're doing to Muslims.
"I think it's a little hypocritical that people would take issue with people retaliating against them … when it's the police and the military who are killing Muslims."
Interrogated for hours
Driver was arrested as he was walking to a bus stop just before 7 a.m. on June 4. He said an unmarked white van pulled up in the wrong lane and several armed officers surrounded him and took him away.
"I think they were hoping that after arresting me they'd find something, you know, they'd find things on my hard drive or my phone," he said.
"They probably think they'd find a gold mine and they didn't, so I think that's why I'm out right now and I'm not in jail."
While in custody, Driver says he was interrogated by police on two separate occasions. Each session lasted between three or four hours and focused primarily on something he retweeted. He wouldn't say specifically what the tweet said, but just that investigators appeared particularly interested in it.
Driver doesn't remember the exact motivation behind the retweet, but said he believes he found it funny at the time.
After eight days in custody, Driver was released on bail under 25 conditions.
He surrendered his passport and must live in Winnipeg for the next 12 months. He has a curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. He can't have a computer or smartphone or log into any of his social media accounts.
Driver is forbidden from contacting any members of the Islamic State or owning anything with the ISIS logo on it. He's also supposed to get religious counselling, but he doesn't know what that entails.
"I feel like I'm living in a prison now, you know, without having access to the internet," he said.
"I feel really cut off from the outside world. I'm not sure it will be that much different than me being in prison, so yeah, I'm going to fight the peace bond."
Found Islam online
Driver was born in Saskatchewan to a Christian family and has lived in New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. His mother died when he was seven years old.
His father later remarried and joined the Canadian Forces. Driver said he's never gotten along with his father or stepmother and isn't close with them now.
Driver said his father caught him smoking a joint at age 14 and sent him to London, Ont., to live with his sister. For the next three years, he hung out with the wrong people and got into trouble.
But that changed when Driver was 17, after he discovered his girlfriend was pregnant.
The Bible is also what Driver said drove him to Islam.
"I just decided it couldn't possibly be the word of God, so I started watching debates to find some answers. A lot of debates between Christians and atheists and Christians and Muslims, and the Muslims were always destroying them in these debates," he said.
When asked how he turned from devout Muslim to a "radical extremist," Driver said it was a result of reading up on the Middle East online.
"Seeing some of the things that happened in Syria, it infuriates you and it breaks your heart at the same time. And I think that if you know what's going on, you have to do something. Even if you're just speaking about it," he said.
"Something has to be done. People need to know what's happening to Muslims so I think maybe that's why."
And while Driver may justify acts of retaliation for injustices against Muslims, he said violence isn't in his nature.
"I don't have a violent history. I've only been in a few fistfights in my whole life," he said.
"No, I don't think I'm a threat, and I don't think there's a reason for Canadians to think that I'm a threat."
He thinks religious counselling might mean the RCMP want him "deradicalized."
When asked what would it take to change his views, he said, "for the West to stop killing Muslims, stop bombing, stop arresting Muslims … take responsibility for the crimes they've committed and just stay home and work on their own problems."
When contacted for a response to this story, the RCMP said, "We have nothing to add about this investigation at this time."