Immediately, after the Brussels attacks, an engineering student from the University of Waterloo was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Even if the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale went out publicly and declared that Canada isn't under any additional or specific terrorist threats, the RCMP decided to choose to arrest the suspect during a time of fear.
This is not the first time. One can only remember that the arrest and charging of Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, both accused and convicted in the Via Rail trial, happened on April 22, 2013, within a week after the Boston Marathon Bombing. During the aftermath of these tragic events, the population is scared and continually bombarded with hundred and thousands of images of destruction and devastation. Emotions run high among the population and the pressure of finding the culprits or their associates is equally high within the police forces.
The RCMP evoked the "fear of terrorism" provision included in the Criminal Code.
But from a PR point of view, it is also very easy for security and intelligence agencies to "sell" their cases with the public. The former Conservative government used to choose these particular tragic moments to introduce new controversial anti-terrorism legislation. For instance Bill C-44, which extended the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) mainly with the protection of intelligence sources, was tabled in the House of Commons on October 27 2014, one week after the Parliament Hill shooting.
What is troubling with this recent arrest is not only the timing, but the basis of it.
Kevin Omar Mohamed was first arrested as part of a peace bond ordered under Section 810.011 of the Criminal Code. He was also charged with weapons offences. The RCMP evoked the "fear of terrorism" provision included in the Criminal Code.
This is a direct implication of the use of some prerogatives of Bill C-51 related to the promotion of terrorism and preventive arrest. It is a preventive measure that put restriction on a suspect in case when there is not enough evidence to charge him.
Since last year, several Muslim men have been arrested using this procedure. The most prominent case was the one of Aaron Driver from Winnipeg in Manitoba who was subject of a peace bond in June 2015. Aaron Driver was first required to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet and undergo religious counselling but later these conditions were dropped after he was released on bail but he was required to live with a family member and he couldn't own a cellphone as well as he had to stay away off social media.
Peace bonds put several restrictions on suspected individuals restricting their travel and their use of Internet. Many observers following the case of the recent arrest of the Waterloo student, initially thought that the reasons behind the arrest of Kevin Omar Mohamed were his alleged sympathetic comments on the Internet and his alleged tweets regarding some of the groups fighting in Syria like ISIS and Jubhat-Al-Nusra.
However, on the day where the suspect was supposed to appear in front of the judge about the peace bond, everyone was surprised, including the lawyer of the suspect, to learn that the RCMP dropped the peace bond and instead charged the suspect with one of the frequently used section of the Criminal Code: section 83.18 in the terrorism cases. So what happened between the day of the arrest and the day of the court hearing? Were the RCMP able to find new evidence against him four days after he was arrested? We don't know.
Did the suspect admit travelling abroad to commit terrorist offences? We don't know. If that was the case, why wasn't he arrested at the time when he allegedly left the country or why wasn't he arrested when he came back from abroad?
In their statement issued last Tuesday to introduce the terrorism offences, the RCMP mentioned that they "would also like to thank the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) for their precious collaboration in this investigation."
Was this an indication that the suspect sent money overseas to support terrorist groups? We don't know.
Another complex case that we will keep monitoring and make sure that the rule of law will be followed even if we still find the timing of the arrest and the abrupt introduction of the terrorism charges very unclear and very confusing.
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