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Exclusive: RCMP Arrested This Ottawa Man Over Terrorism Fears Last Month

His arrest took place just days after ISIS supporter Aaron Driver was killed.

by Rachel Browne
Sep 12 2016, 7:12pm

Within days of a foiled terror plot that ended in the death of Aaron Driver, a known Islamic State supporter in southern Ontario, Canada's federal police arrested another young man over fears he would participate in terrorism, VICE News has learned.

Ottawa man Tevis Gonyou-McLean, 24, was arrested on August 12 and charged with uttering a threat to cause death or harm to another person. The RCMP are also pursuing a terror-related peace bond against him over fears that he might engage in terrorism at home and abroad.

At the end of August, Gonyou-McLean was released on a $1,000 bond and 27 bail conditions that heavily restrict his behaviour and movements, according to court records.

His name appears on a list provided to VICE News by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada that, experts say, paints the most complete picture of who has been pursued under terror-related peace bonds, which are legal tools used to restrict an individual's movements when there may not be enough evidence to lay a criminal charge.

The bail conditions forbid him from communicating with four other Ottawa men who have been embroiled in terrorism cases. They are: twin brothers, Carlos and Ashton Larmond, who recently pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit acts of terror; Awso Peshdary who will stand trial later this year for his alleged role as primary recruiter for a homegrown terrorist network; and Luqman Abdunnur, who was arrested in 2014 after he praised the shooting on Parliament Hill that year.

The reasons for the accusations against Gonyou-McLean are not outlined in the court document.

His mother told VICE News in an interview that he began espousing extremist views after he converted to Islam in March 2015.

The RCMP confirmed to VICE News in an email that Tevis Gonyou-McLean was arrested by the RCMP Ottawa Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), and is facing a criminal charge as well as a terror-related peace bond application.

Because of a court ordered publication ban, "the RCMP will not be commenting any further on this matter," said RCMP spokesperson Annie Delisle.

Under his extensive list of bail conditions, Gonyou-McLean must wear an electronic ankle monitor and live in the special care unit at the Salvation Army, designed for adult men who have "spiritual, emotional and physical needs." Some conditions are related to mental health issues, including that he stay in touch with a mental health worker. He is also required to check in with his bail supervisor five days a week.

The Ottawa Salvation Army, where Tevis Gonyou-McLean has been ordered to reside. Photo by Fangliang Xu

"You don't have to be nervous around me," Gonyou-McLean told VICE News during a meeting at the Salvation Army Friday evening.

He was wearing a hat and a wrinkled grey button-down shirt. Having just woken up from a nap, his eyes were red. He works the late-night shift at a local pizza shop, the only other place he's allowed to be outside of the Salvation Army. Sitting on a chair in the corner of the common room, he lifted up his pant leg to reveal the black electronic monitor wrapped around his ankle.

Gonyou-McLean declined to speak about his case on the record, on the advice of his lawyer, Biagio Del Greco, who is currently out of the country. Del Greco's colleague, Brett McGarry, confirmed to VICE News that his firm is representing Gonyou-McLean. "We will have to reserve comment until we receive the evidence, which we haven't seen yet," he said.

The unit where Gonyou-McLean is staying is just minutes away from Canada's federal Parliament buildings, the site of Canada's most high-profile terror attack, where Michael Zehaf-Bibeau opened fire at police and security after killing a Canadian soldier guarding the war memorial outside.

In addition to not communicating with the group of convicted and alleged Ottawa extremists, Gonyou-McLean is also barred from speaking to or going near his mother Tamara McLean, although the records don't explain why.

In an interview on Sunday, McLean said that she is going to be called as a witness in the case against her son—although she said she wasn't aware there had been a peace bond application filed against him. McLean wouldn't go into the details of the case for fear of jeopardizing it.

She said she was there when Gonyou-McLean was arrested by police officers on August 12th at his apartment building, the first time he had been arrested in his life.

"I didn't know what was happening. I was just standing in the parking lot and they came out of nowhere," she said. "It was quite a shock to me. I didn't expect he was going to be arrested."

McLean said her son has struggled with mental health issues for years, and has used drugs throughout his teens and early 20s. "He was a lot like the other young men who've ended up in this situation," she said, referring to other radicalized Canadians. "He didn't like school, he was doing drugs all the time."

Then in the summer of 2014, he became a devout Christian and began worshipping at a local evangelical church. "He was even baptized in the Ottawa River," McLean said. It was surprising because she and her ex-husband, Gonyou-McLean's stepfather, who recently retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, didn't talk about religion much at home. He never had much contact with his biological father.

"I think he's searching and has always been searching for something, somewhere to belong." And turning to Christianity had made him a better person, McLean said.

"He said he was going to clean up his life and seemed very positive about doing that."

But things took a turn in November of 2014. He left the church, started using drugs again and his behaviour deteriorated. "He said that hadn't worked out and that he didn't believe in what they were preaching," she said.

The Islam Care Centre, which Tevis Gonyou-McLean attended. Photo by Fangliang Xu

A few months later, in March of 2015, Gonyou-McLean told his mother that he was converting to Islam. She was shocked.

"When he talked about converting, I had a conversation with him that there were two paths to go down in Islam: the good path of becoming a good Muslim, and the radicalization path. And he said he wanted to be a good Muslim," said McLean. "And obviously we know how that turned out."

McLean said that once her son started espousing extreme views, there wasn't much she could do to steer him away from it. "We've tried to support him and give him good values and I just don't think with any of these kids that when they get radicalized, there's a whole lot you can do," she said.

According to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Gonyou-McLean is one of nine people who have pending applications for peace bonds against them—three of whom are facing formal terrorism charges.

Only one person, Kadir Abdul, is on an active peace bond that has been officially granted by the court. Abdul, 27, signed the peace bond order in July after he was arrested by RCMP earlier this year over fears he would leave the country to participate in terrorism.

Ten terror peace bonds have expired, according to that list, including that of Aaron Driver, another recent convert who was the same age as Gonyou-McLean. Many of the other expired peace bonds were pursued a decade ago as part of the investigation into the Toronto 18 group.

Driver was ultimately killed by police in August as he was leaving his residence in a taxi armed with a makeshift bomb near London, Ontario. Driver, who for years expressed his support for ISIS through social media, was never charged with a crime, but was arrested twice by police in 2015 and the court eventually granted his peace bond application over terrorism fears.

Because Driver clearly violated his bail terms and the conditions of his peace bond, his case has prompted discussion as to whether terror peace bonds are an effective anti-terror tool.

Since 2001, courts in Canada have granted peace bonds in cases where police feared someone might commit terrorism. Last year, the previous Conservative government overhauled the peace bond system as part of its anti-terror legislation (Bill C-51) and made it easier for police to request peace bonds. Since then, police have increasingly relied on them as a tool to prevent acts of terror where formal charges cannot be laid.

Gonyou-McLean is also forbidden from leaving Ottawa. He cannot access the internet, possess any object "with the logo of the listed terrorist entity ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State," or "access or view any listed terrorist group materials, electronic or otherwise, that advocate or support the use of violence, or espouse extremist or radical views to achieve political, religious or ideological ends."

Apartment building that Tevis Gonyou-McLean lived in, on Cedarwood Drive, at the time of his arrest. Photo by Fangliang Xu

In addition to being prohibited from contacting his mother, he must also avoid contact with Eric Tibbetts, a third-year Carleton university student who recently converted to Islam and has been involved with various Muslim community groups across the city.

Earlier this year, Tibbetts told reporters that he feared he was being targeted for radicalization by Awso Peshdary, one of the men Gonyou-McLean isn't allowed to communicate with under the terms of his release. Peshdary is facing criminal charges for recruiting people for what the RCMP describe as a "terror cluster" in Ottawa that allegedly also included brothers Ashton and Carlos Larmond who are currently serving prison sentences for conspiring to commit terrorism.

Tibbetts told the Ottawa Citizen that he met Peshdary at a dinner hosted in Ottawa by the Islam Care Centre in 2014.

As recently as last summer, Gonyou-McLean attended events at the Islam Care Centre. His mother said she would sometimes go with him.

The director of the Islam Care Centre, Omar Mahfoudhi, told VICE News he knew of Gonyou-McLean and his mother, but wouldn't elaborate further.

Gonyou-McLean also attended prayers and lectures at the Ottawa Mosque, although the vice president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, Ahmed Ibrahim, told VICE News he had no idea who he was. "We don't ask if people are new converts," Ibrahim said at the mosque on Saturday. "We welcome everyone."

Gonyou-McLean's next court date is scheduled for the end of September.

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With files from Davide Mastracci.