The state giveth and the state taketh away

I have been thinking a lot about peace bonds in the wake of the Aaron Driver case. For those who forget, or who reside in a parallel universe, Aaron Driver  was the young man from Strathroy, Ontario who radicalised, praised Islamic State, posted a martyrdom video and was gunned down after getting into a cab with a bomb heading for parts unknown.

Mr. Driver was subject to a peace bond which had several conditions attached, most of which he failed to abide by, the two most important of which were no contact with other extremists online (and no online activities period) and no access to firearms or explosives.

The obvious failure of the peace bond in this case has called into question the use of this tool, if not in a general way at least when it comes to terrorists and radicalised individuals.  Many Canadians were surprised to hear that the RCMP was not keeping an eye on Mr. Driver despite the presence of that peace bond and questioned how someone so obvious and known to authorities could get so close to carrying out a terrorist act. If a person on the radar could evade detection, they asked, how likely is it that our guardians will stop someone who has not crossed any tripwires?

So I guess the issue really is whether the peace bond can be still seen as part of the counter terrorism arsenal.  Recall that this legal mechanism is used when authorities do not have a body of evidence robust enough to lay charges.  And yet I think we all agree that when the Feds have valid suspicions and intelligence that someone is radicalised and poses a potential threat “doing nothing” is not an option.

At the same time we in Canada do not take kindly to having the State interfere unjustifiably in our affairs (as the other Trudeau famously said “there’s no place for the State in the bedroom of the nation”).  Peace bonds clearly do place State-mandated restrictions on Canadians.  Hence the question is still hanging over us: what is fair, what is necessary, and what is overbearing?

When it comes to violent extremism and violent radicalisation I believe that the State has not only a right but an obligation to its people to take measures to protect public safety. This obligation more than overrides personal freedom.  In this vein, the following impositions strike me as legitimate

  1. Violent radicals should not have access to social media or the Internet. Some have argued that this creates an isolation environment that worsens the situation and may radicalise a person even more.  To that I have two responses: since when was the use of social media the only way to interact with others and do we really want to go with the alternative and allow these people to continue to read, watch and post violent material online?
  2. Violent radicals must be prohibited from communicating with other known violent radicals.  No, this is not easy but it would be helped by observing #1 above
  3. Passports should be seized.  A passport is a privilege not a right and if a person demonstrates quite clearly that he intends to use it to further terrorist goals he has no right to own one
  4. Firearm licences and firearms must be seized.  A violent radical has no business owning a firearm.  There must be a way to determine who has a licence and to force violent radicals to hand in their weapons. Illegal weapons are of course a completely different matter but then again they always are
  5. Violent radicals must be forced to participate in some kind of counselling programme.  I am not a huge fan of “deradicalisation” and I caution that not all efforts will succeed anyway, but there must be an effort in this regard.  If the approach works then great. If not, we have confirmed that we have a real problem on our hands and will have learned more about the depth and breadth of that individual’s radicalisation

There are probably other conditions but this is a start.  The key of course is to monitor compliance and enforce it. These are bigger issues that will require more resources.  But if we want to continue to use peace bonds in our counter terrorism policy we need to give them the chance to succeed.  If we do not, we will get more cases like Aaron Driver.

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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