Do Canadian authorities have enough counter terrorism tools?

Today in the small southwestern Ontario town of Strathroy a young man known to police for having terrorist connections was killed by security forces after he appeared to have exploded a device and had another in  his possession.  The victim, Aaron Driver, had been arrested in June 2015 after expressing support for Islamic State (IS) and praising the October 2014 terrorist attack on Parliament Hill.  Mr. Driver had been bound by a peace bond and had had several restrictions placed on him, including no on-line access, no possession of firearms or explosives and the need to live at a specific address in Strathroy.

Peace bonds, as I have noted before, are used by law enforcement to keep tabs on people in cases where the police have reasonable grounds to believe that someone is engaged in criminal activity but do not have enough evidence to lay charges.  They are a less onerous measure than arrest and trial but even this tool has been criticised as draconian and a violation of charter rights by some.  Mr. Driver’s lawyer sought to have his conditions eased.

In the wake of this incident, it would be surprising if there was not a hue and cry over whether peace bonds are the right approach in terrorism cases.  With what we know so far, it is fairly clear that the peace bond issued on Mr. Driver was not sufficient to stop him from preparing a terrorist act.  It is only thanks to the RCMP and their partners that no one was hurt or killed by whatever action Mr. Driver was planning.

So where do we go from here?  There are several other Canadians currently on peace bonds for terrorist activities.  What if one of these follows Mr. Driver’s lead?  Should the police lay charges now before it is too late?  John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were released a few weeks ago when a BC judge ruled that they had been entrapped by the RCMP, which immediately placed them under a peace bond. Is that enough?  Do we need to treat terrorism differently than other crimes?

Canadians expect and demand that their security intelligence and law enforcement agencies keep them safe and these bodies do a stellar job.  But are the current measures available to them adequate?  There is a huge debate going on right now about C-51, the anti-terrorism bill passed by the previous Conservative government and under review by the current Liberal government.  Many see this law as a step too far.  Is it?

All I know is that people don’t want to hear excuses after a successful attack. They want assurances that events like these cannot happen.   And yet they balk at giving our agencies the host of tools they need to do their jobs.

We need a mature, reasoned debate about what instruments to give our security organisations.  We need to discuss what is absolutely necessary and what goes too far.  There has to be an acceptable compromise.  Come on, we’re Canadians: we are the masters of compromise.

If Canadians decide that the RCMP and CSIS should not be given certain powers and an act of terrorism takes place that perhaps would have been stopped if those powers had been granted, we are going to have a lot of soul searching in this country.  I am not trying to be dramatic, just a realist.  No, we don’t have to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of safety but we do have to make sure we don’t hamstring our protectors.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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