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Everything We Know About Canada’s Efforts to Track Would-Be Terrorists

After the death of Aaron Driver, there are many questions about the effectiveness of Canada's terrorism-related peace bond process.

by Tamara Khandaker
Sep 14 2016, 7:12pm


Video footage showing Aaron Driver is seen behind RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana (left) and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan during a press conference in Ottawa on August 11, 2016. Photo by CP/Justin Tang, File

Despite being hailed as a powerful tool to stop would-be terrorists from committing violence or leaving to fight abroad, just one person in Canada is currently on a terrorism-related peace bond.

According to a list provided to VICE News by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, police are pursuing peace bonds against nine others, all of whom were arrested and are currently out on bail, living with varying degrees of limited freedom.

Prior to August, there was one more name on the active peace bond list: Aaron Driver, who was shot to death by police while allegedly attempting to carry out a terrorist attack.

The rarity of the bonds' application, and Driver's death, raise a number of questions about the efficacy of peace bonds to keep watch over people deemed at high risk of committing acts of terror.

VICE News has spent weeks gathering details of the peace bonds process, obtaining bail conditions, interviewing lawyers assigned to these cases, and tracking down individuals who have come in contact with the regime.

In many cases, even as the Crown proceeds with the peace bond process—before a judge hears the application and before the prosecution can prove their case—the court orders strict and limiting bail conditions.

Ghalmi Merouane of Montreal, for example, is not only forbidden from accessing the internet, but has also been instructed to "not find [himself], go, or live in a residence where there is internet."

Tevis Gonyou-McLean is the latest addition to the pending applications list, as revealed by VICE News this week. He was released from custody under 27 bail conditions, including wearing an electronic ankle monitor, surrendering his passport, and not being in possession of any device that allows him to go online.

Some experts dismiss the peace bonds as a "Goldilocks remedy"—too strong for those who espouse radical views, but too weak for those who intend to turn to violence. Others have accused the entire process of seriously infringing on the civil liberties of people who've never committed a crime.


The Ottawa Salvation Army where Tevis Gonyou-McLean has to live, as per the conditions of bail related to a peace bond application. Photo by Fangliang Xu for VICE News

"The Crown is getting their pound of flesh before getting their peace bond," said Jessyca Greenwood, who is representing Abdul Aldabous, a 19-year-old man who has been under a number of restrictions for about a year while awaiting his day in court to fight the peace bond application.

Greenwood considers the bail conditions, which ban him from the internet or any electronic communication devices, too onerous.

"It's a one-size fits all solution to what is an extraordinarily complex problem," said Stephanie Carvin, who has worked as a national security analyst and is now researching terrorism and security at Carleton University.

"You have individuals who might be suffering from mental health issues, some who might be confused religiously, and then there's individuals who might actually be quite violent and on the verge of mobilizing," said Carvin. "There's probably a lot of grey in between even those three categories."

When the previous Conservative government overhauled the terrorism peace bond process, under Bill C-51, it became significantly easier for prosecutors to obtain the orders. Instead of needing to convince a judge that they believe an individual will commit a terrorist act, they need only convince the court that the individual may commit an act.

Speaking to a Parliamentary committee in 2015, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulsen said, "By having people on conditions, we're able to sort of intervene and work with them to try to get them out of that path." People can be placed on a peace bond for a maximum of 12 months if they haven't previously been convicted of a terrorism offence.

On Monday, Conservative leadership candidate Tony Clement declared that unless authorities can watch them 24/7, people at high risk of committing terrorism should be held in jail without charge.

The RCMP has admitted that Driver, who went on to record and upload a martyrdom video, craft two homemade explosive devices, and was allegedly planning on carrying out some sort of attack in Toronto when he was stopped by police, was not under constant surveillance.

Still, observers are asking how he managed to slip by law enforcement unnoticed. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, when questioned by VICE News about the intelligence failure, spun it as a positive.

"The situation in Strathroy indicated a very effective working relationship between Canadian authorities and American authorities," Goodale said from Edmonton.

Nevertheless, Goodale said that changes to the peace bond process could be incoming, but would not say when they would take effect. His government just launched a round of public consultations on Canada's national security regime, scheduled to conclude at the end of the year.

Homegrown terrorism expert Lorne Dawson, an expert witness in Driver's case, believes it was likely the isolating nature of the bail condition terms that pushed him over the edge by cutting him off from his online jihadist community.

"I think he was in a place where he could've been prevented from going towards violent action," said Dawson in an interview, adding that peace bonds are currently lacking a mandatory counselling component—something the federal government is now looking into.

Dawson said that Driver seemed "sincere" when he said, during their interview, that he had no intentions of engaging in any violence in Canada, but that he was obviously "welded" to his radicalized identity. Dawson stressed that research literature strongly suggests that there's a poor correlation between talking about radical ideas and engaging in violent action. Driver seemed like a talker, according to Dawson.

He said authorities still don't know how to measure how radicalized someone might be, a problem he acknowledged is difficult to solve.

The government seems to be wrestling with the same dilemma.

"How can you make this tool more effective than it has previously proved to be? Are there different alternatives that police experts or legal experts, or the general public, would want to recommend?" Goodale said during a press conference announcing the public consultations. "This is a big field, there are lots of dimensions to it, we are approaching it in a thoughtful and careful way."

With files from Justin Ling, Davide Mastracci, and Rachel Browne.

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter.

Tagged:
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Ghalmi Merouane
Goldilocks Remedy