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Aaron Driver Terror Case Represents Failure Of Peace Bonds: Expert

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OTTAWA — Security and radicalization experts say the fact Aaron Driver was able to plan a terrorist attack with explosives while under a peace bond shows the court-ordered tool is far from the full answer to controlling people with extremist ideas.

Peace bonds have been touted as a means for police to contain the threat from someone with jihadist sympathies when their behaviour falls short of the threshold for a criminal charge.

Under the terms of his peace bond, Driver was not allowed to use a computer or cellphone at his Strathroy, Ont., residence, and he was prohibited from possessing explosives.

The RCMP candidly acknowledge Driver was not under constant surveillance and that only a tip from U.S. authorities alerted them to his plans.

aaron driver
A screen capture from video footage of Aaron Driver, shown during a press conference on Aug. 11. (Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

He died in a confrontation with authorities Wednesday after climbing into a waiting taxi, though it's not yet clear whether he was killed by his own explosive device or police bullets.

The Driver case represents the failure of a peace bond, said Wesley Wark, an intelligence historian who teaches at the University of Ottawa.

The peace bond did not deter Driver from taking action and he was clearly able to evade some of the conditions imposed on him, Wark said. "The reminder here is that peace bonds are fallible and that careful consideration will always have to be given to the decision to impose them instead of seeking a criminal conviction."

Phil Gurski, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst who specializes in counter-radicalization efforts, asks whether peace bonds are the right tool for a terrorism suspect like Driver.

"What are reasonable tools? Where is that balance between freedom and security? Let's have the conversation."

"Because clearly he didn't abandon the ideology, he didn't abandon the desire to do something," Gurski said.

"What are reasonable tools? Where is that balance between freedom and security? Let's have the conversation."

The Driver case may well underscore the need for serious investment in efforts to defuse violent extremism, so that such episodes don't end with an explosion and preventive use of lethal force, University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese wrote on his blog Thursday.

"Some will scoff at this conclusion, but I do not think the evidence exists one way or another as to whether we can develop an effective counter-violent extremism strategy to pre-empt these situations. And I don't think we have much choice but to try."

"It's very hard to determine whether the intervention will produce a positive or a negative result."

Resorting to a peace bond is akin to staging a "somewhat blunt" intervention, says Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo sociology professor. "It's very hard to determine whether the intervention will produce a positive or a negative result."

Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, would welcome empowering judges to order a suspect into rehabilitation, backed by national programming and resources.

aaron driver rcmpVideo footage showing Aaron Driver is seen behind RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana (left) and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan during a press conference. (Photo: Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

His organization is helping Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale set up a national office of counter-radicalization that will help fund and co-ordinate such efforts.

Dawson points to countries including Britain and Denmark that are already well along the prevention path. "We are many years behind in doing that."

Goodale acknowledged Thursday the federal government "has largely been absent from this field" and needs to get far more active in outreach and engagement.

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