Is the use of peace bonds an effective way to stop terrorism?

Of all the tools used in countering terrorism and violent extremism in Canada, one of the most controversial is the peace bond.  It is normally issued by the Court in cases where an individual is judged likely to commit an offence but where there are no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has actually been committed.  We generally associate this measure with women seeking protection from ex-spouses or partners, although other instances have also arisen where a peace bond is issued.

Restrictions under a peace bond can be significant.  Those subject to it may be unable to use the Internet, associate with named people or stay away from specific addresses.  As no charge has been laid under the Criminal Code, this measure strikes many as draconian and a violation of human rights.  To those who are of this view, officials should charge individuals if they think an offence is likely, and not resort to an unreasonable imposition of obstacles to one’s freedom.

In recent months, a few cases have popped up where a peace bond has been granted for individuals believed to be involved in terrorist activity.  Over the Easter weekend, Kevin Mohammed, a former University of Waterloo student, was the subject of a “preventative” arrest by the RCMP.  According to open information, his online postings showed support for terrorist groups such as Jabhat al Nusra and he is believed to have traveled to Syria in 2014.  Some have come to Mr. Mohammed’s defence, alleging that his social media behaviour was not dangerous and that he does not pose a threat to Canadian society.   I will say, however, based on  my experience in intelligence, that publicly available information in any given case is the merest tip of the iceberg of what is actually happening.  With respect to Mr. Mohammed, his online profile may show one thing, but police or intelligence investigations may show something completely different.  Yes, we will have to wait for more information to be made available, one hopes in open court, but I advise you to reserve judgment on what is going on here.

So, where do we stand with peace bonds?  Do they place unreasonable limitations on our Charter rights?  Should the state not have to possess more information (i.e. evidence) before it can remove someone’s liberty?

As usual, the answers are not obvious.

The bigger question is why the government, through the RCMP, has elected to resort to peace bonds as a way to deter terrorism.  The answer, I think, lies in two related camps.  First, the measure is used where the police have not amassed enough evidence to lay a charge – one assumes that they are still gathering information – but where there IS enough to raise real concerns.  In this vein, the decision has been reached that leaving the person untouched is not acceptable.

Here’s where the second reason comes in.  If our law enforcement agencies were to have a body of information suggesting that an given individual was likely to carry out a terrorist act and did nothing, could you imagine the outrage if that person went on to engage in terrorism?  This is truly a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario.  We are also in a heightened state of fear in light of the attacks in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere and it is probable that these incidents are having an effect on the decision to go with a peace bond.

But do they work?  Again, it is unclear.  I am not aware of any occasion on which an individual subject to a peace bond has carried out an act of terrorism (interestingly, Martin Couture Rouleau, who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Quebec, on October 20, 2014, was not on a peace bond as the application for one had been rejected).  It is certainly possible though that we will see such a case in the future as the mechanism is not comprehensive enough to prevent all possibilities.  It will be interesting to see government and society’s reaction to an attack perpetrated by someone on a peace bond.  My guess is that police will be criticised for not doing enough.

We are thus left with an imperfect tool for a complicated phenomenon.  In a perfect world, everything would we above board and we wouldn’t need peace bonds.  The world is, alas, not perfect and our law enforcement agencies need a variety of arrows in their quiver to keep us safe.  Is this a case of better safe than sorry?  Perhaps, but we need to debate to what extent we want to feel safe where there are no guarantees.


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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