Manitoba

'What didn't I do?' After New Zealand shootings, father of Canadian extremist speaks out about grief, guilt

Every time Wayne Driver hears about a terror attack, he's immediately transported back to 2016 — when police shot and killed his son Aaron, who allegedly planned to carry out a suicide bombing.

Aaron Driver, shot and killed by RCMP in 2016, allegedly planned to blow up Toronto's Union Station

Aaron Driver, 24, was shot and killed by the RCMP while in the back of a cab in Strathroy, Ont., in August 2016. Police said he had detonated an explosive device in the cab, and was planning to use another when officers opened fire. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Every time Wayne Driver hears about a terror attack, he's immediately transported back to 2016 — when his son was killed, allegedly on his way to carry out a suicide bombing.

"It will come up the rest of my life. Every shooting, every attack, every bombing of whatever nature, wherever in the world, will have an impact on us because of what Aaron did," he told CBC News from his home in Cold Lake, Alta.

Aaron Driver, 24, was shot and killed by the RCMP while in the back of a cab in Strathroy, Ont., in August 2016. Police said he had detonated an explosive device in the cab, and was planning to use another when officers opened fire.

At the time, law enforcement said they'd been tipped off by the FBI about a Canadian who posted an online video saying he was planning an imminent attack. Canada's public safety minister later said the target was Toronto's Union Station.

Aaron had left a note for his family.

"[He said] he loved us all very much, he didn't expect us to understand, and it was something that he had to do," said Driver.

Debris clutters a taxi after the detonation. (RCMP)

His son didn't provide any details about what he was planning, and had only written to say he wasn't coming back, he said.

"He was basically saying goodbye. One way or another, he was not coming home alive."

After reading the letter, "we knew he had chosen either that he was going to take himself out by the explosive ordinance, or the police were going to take him out — because he was not going to give them a choice."

Aaron had been under a peace bond after his arrest at his Winnipeg home in 2015 for openly supporting ISIS on social media. He had been on the radar of CSIS since 2014.

Aaron had converted to Islam as a teen, but kept his extremist views from the family.

"We didn't know what kind of path he was on. We just figured he was seeking another religion," said Driver, who described his son as appearing to be "just like your average neighbour."

"It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, really. He was nice to his family and friends that he chose, and he still had this hatred for the world."

Aaron 'was nice to his family and friends that he chose, and he still had this hatred for the world,' says his father. (Facebook)

Similarities to New Zealand shooter

Driver said even though his son was driven by religious extremism and Brenton Tarrant — who allegedly killed 50 Muslims in New Zealand mosques last week — was a white supremacist, he sees similarities between the two.

Both had been planning their attacks for years, "unbeknownst to anyone," he said.

As well, "they have the same warped sense of hatred. Warped sense of justice. I mean, who made them judge, jury and executioner except themselves? So there's going to be an imbalance going on there somewhere."

Driver said he is grateful his son didn't have the chance to hurt anyone, but wonders why authorities couldn't catch the gunman before he carried out the killings in Christchurch.

"With the technology we have, could we not set wider parameters to catch terrorists of all groups?" he said.

Police have caught terror suspects in the past, he said, and he can't understand how others slip through the cracks, "especially if they're so bold as to post their intentions on the internet."

Wayne Driver said he's wanted to speak publicly after other terror attacks, but didn't. He decided to speak out after a gunman killed 50 people in mosques in New Zealand last week. (Sykpe)

Sympathy for gunman's family

Driver, who is a pastor, said he's been praying for the victims in Christchurch and their families since he heard about the mosque shootings. His thoughts are also with the gunman's family.

"We know how hard it is to go through something like that. All kinds of questions come up, all kinds of fingers are being pointed," Driver said.

"And we just want them to know that people do understand what they're going through and that our prayers are with them."

Video footage showing Aaron is seen behind RCMP deputy commissioner Mike Cabana, left, and assistant commissioner Jennifer Strachan during a news conference in August 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

His family tried to get help for Aaron after they found out about his extremist views, Driver said, but his son shut them out.

"It kind of makes you feel guilty… and you start questioning your parenting skills over the years. As with any parent whose child commits a crime, you've got to ask yourself, 'Why? What did I do? What didn't I do? What could I have done?'" he said.

"Even somebody that commits a rape or murder, the parents have the same questions. It's just escalated more when your son or daughter is a terrorist. More fingers are pointing at you because of the atrocity of the crime." 

Driver said he's wanted to say something publicly after other terror attacks, but didn't.

This time, he couldn't stay quiet.  

"Prayers go out to the victims' families. They didn't do anything to deserve this, except to be different in the eyes of the … misguided few."

But Driver also has a message for the gunman's family.  

"We're not all responsible for what somebody else does.… We cannot own our children's mistakes," he said.

"They chose to go down that road. And we can't own that for them. It's their choice."

About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca