Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Attack Still Raises Questions

Note: This is a modified version of an article written for Frontline Security magazine. See the original here.

Last week’s successful prevention of a terrorist attack merits Canadians’ appreciation for the effective work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Ontario Provincial Police and local police. Thanks are also due to the FBI, which alerted the RCMP Wednesday morning after learning of an online jihadi video pledging allegiance to ISIS and announcing his murderous intent.

The RCMP was then able to identify self-professed Muslim convert and would-be jihadi Aaron Driver from Strathroy, Ontario, in part, reportedly, through face recognition biometric technology. Driver was already subject to a court ordered terrorism “peace bond” which was imposed followed his June 2015 arrest in Winnipeg for suspected terrorist connections. It was clear from his own social media postings and connections that he supported Islamist terrorism, including the Parliament Hill attack in October 2014.Canadian Terrorist Attack

The effectiveness of the peace bond, as well as other systemic issues, are now being questioned even as Canadians recognize the excellent work done by the RCMP and other police agencies that thwarted this intended mass murder. Also worth noting was the candid and substantive media briefing the day after the takedown of Driver provided by RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan. It is clear that under Deputy Commissioner Cabana’s leadership, effective Canada-U.S. relationships exist and that immediate operational response is in a deployment ready status. The importance of this cannot be overstated because, unlike the traditional criminal justice world, success in counter terrorism is measured in prevention and not just prosecution.

Post-incident review and operational investigations are underway, but the event clearly raises a number of systemic issues that also merit analysis. To be clear: this should not be a finger pointing exercise, but rather one that explores what happened, or what didn’t, and why, to determine if improvements can be made. One thing is certain, the domestic Islamist terrorist threat in Canada remains real and thus must be pragmatically addressed.

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Listed below are issues that merit consideration:

Why was the FBI able to detect the video while the RCMP/CSIS were not, and is there a joint Canada-U.S. national security ‘bad guy’ database supported by face recognition biometrics?

Why was the RCMP unable to detect if Driver was on the internet/social media?

Does the RCMP have face recognition biometrics technology and a national security database to identify persons of interest? If so, does it include people on terrorism peace bonds, identified jihadis, etc…?

Are the conditions of preventive peace bonds issued by courts practically enforceable and effective? Is appropriate consideration given to seeking residency restrictions to avoid community placement without public notice?

Driver was originally ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device after his arrest last year, but it was removed by the Court in February when the peace bond conditions were finalized. Would the monitoring have helped authorities detect Driver’s acquisition of explosive equipment?

Was the ongoing supervision of Driver sufficient, and was RCMP aware of and okay with him attending the identified local mosque?

Did Driver have a second explosive device?

Were RCMP able to intercept Driver’s communications while awaiting takedown?

Why was the RCMP unable to decrypt previously intercepted social media to reveal, not only who he was communicating with, but what was being said?

How was Driver radicalized? Are efforts underway to identify and incapacitate such groups/methods?

Ironically, all of these issues would be appropriate for in-camera hearings conducted by the proposed Parliamentary National Security Committee, as proposed in legislation which is currently before Parliament. Whatever the forum, these questions need to be asked…and answered.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations to the Washington D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the Governments of Ontario and Canada.

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