Foiled attack raises questions about value of peace bonds

The use of peace bonds as a tool to deal with suspected terrorist sympathizers is being questioned, after the RCMP revealed that Aaron Driver had been poised to launch an attack, despite being subject to a court order placing him under restrictions.

Court order failed to stop Aaron Driver from planning attack

Video footage showing Aaron Driver is seen behind RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana (left) and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan during a press conference on Thursday in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The use of peace bonds as a tool to deal with suspected terrorist sympathizers is being questioned, after the RCMP revealed that Aaron Driver had been poised to launch an attack, despite being subject to a court order placing him under restrictions.

While some are questioning whether police should have done more to enforce the peace bond issued by a Winnipeg court, others suggest no peace bond can stop someone who is determined to launch an attack.

Driver was killed Wednesday during a confrontation with police on a normally quiet residential street in the small town of Strathroy, nearly 40 kilometres west of London, Ont.

Driver was one of only 11 Canadians who have been subject to anti-terrorism peace bonds, according to Elizabeth Armitage, director of communications for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. With Driver dead, only one terrorism peace bond remains active. The rest have expired. 

Peace bonds are issued by a court in cases where authorities fear an individual is likely to commit an offence but there is no evidence that an offence has already been committed. If individuals obey the conditions of the peace bond, they stay out of jail. If they breach them, they can be put behind bars.

The conditions of Driver's peace bond were reduced by a Winnipeg judge in February to remove the condition he wear a GPS ankle bracelet that would have allowed him to be tracked

He was required to live at a specified address in Strathroy, Ont., had to notify an RCMP officer of any changes in address and report to that officer twice a month. Driver had to seek permission to own any cellphones, computers or mobile devices and stay off social media websites until the end of August.

FBI warned of threat

It is not clear, however, just how closely police were monitoring Driver as he planned the attack that was thwarted by police. The RCMP only learned of his plans after the FBI warned them of a credible terrorist threat and provided a copy of the martyr video he had prepared.

During a news conference Thursday in Ottawa, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana said there are limits to how far a peace bond can go if someone is determined.

"As it's clearly demonstrated by this case here, when individuals have these kinds of intentions, intentions such as Mr. Driver had, there are no conditions that can be put in place that will prevent them from taking action."

Lorne Dawson, a sociology professor at the University of Waterloo who researches radicalization and terrorism, says a peace bond was one of the few steps authorities could take, because despite his online support for ISIS, Driver hadn't actually broken Canadian law.
University of Waterloo sociologist Lorne Dawson says a peace bond is the only measure police have available until someone actually breaks the law. (CBC)

"The peace bond was really the only measure available, and the new terrorism legislation of course brought in by the Conservative government made the conditions for the peace bond easier. The police don't have to show that someone was likely to do something — merely that they may do something," Dawson said.

"In a way, Aaron Driver was a test case for the new conditions of a peace bond. Really, their hands are tied. Until someone does something, it's about the only measure they have available."

Where is the balance?

Phil Gurski, a former intelligence analyst, says CSIS and the RCMP can't afford to monitor those on an anti-terrorism peace bond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is also debate over how the conditions of a peace bond should be set and monitored.

"What I find fascinating is that the father has said that his son was not surveilled enough," Gurski told CBC's Power & Politics. "And we have the lawyer, trying to get all the conditions dropped as being too draconian.
Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst (Phil Gurski)

"So where is the balance in all this?"

Gurski said Canadians have to decide where they want to set the bar between rights and security.

"How much security is enough, how much is too much? How much is a violation of our charter rights?

Those are the kinds of questions parliamentarians will be asking as MPs prepare to debate national security and an overhaul of the Conservative government's controversial Bill C-51, which gave new powers to police and intelligence forces.

"This is an issue that Canadians will have the opportunity to be engaged in during the course of the national security consultations," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters when asked whether it should be easier for prosecutors to obtain peace bonds for terrorism suspects.

"Others have pointed out in these circumstances that the peace bond may or may not have been the right tool to be used."

"No tool, in dealing with these kinds of circumstances will be perfect."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says Canadians will have to discuss the balance between rights and security. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative public safety critic Erin O'Toole said Bill C-51 was part of his government's attempt to get that balance right.

"I think the case of Mr. Driver demonstrates how challenging this is in the modern age…He's actually one of the first cases that that legislation was meant to impact."

"What I worry about is the new government that actually voted for C-51 and talks about changing it. How are they going to ensure that law enforcement can apprehend or stop attacks like this. You can't just instantly weaken these measures."


With files from Jennifer Choi and Katie Simpson