WINNIPEG — Last year, federal authorities were so suspicious Aaron Driver might have ties to a terrorist group that he bounced in and out of jails and courtrooms for months, all without any actual charges ever being laid — and he had no criminal record at the time.
The Canadian Press has learned that Driver was the terrorism suspect killed in a confrontation with police Wednesday in the southern Ontario town of Strathroy. The information was from a source with knowledge of the police takedown who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
In June 2015, Driver was first picked up in Winnipeg. Published reports at the time suggested Driver posted messages on social media that praised terrorist activities, including the attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014 by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University who studies radicalization and terrorism, maintained in 2015 that Driver posted for several months on social media about disliking Canada and about a desire to move overseas.
Mounties applied for a peace bond that could impose limits on Driver’s activities, alleging in provincial court documents that investigators believed he might help with terrorist group activities.
When Driver, who was in his mid-20s, was released later that month, he was ordered to comply with 18 different conditions, including wearing a GPS tracking device.
At the time, the bail conditions drew criticism from the Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties.
“This is a person — a Canadian citizen — who has not been charged with a crime … and yet he’s going to be subject to 24-7 GPS monitoring,” said association president Corey Shefman.
“This is Canada and a judge has just told this man that he must receive counselling from a religious leader. That, frankly, is outrageous.”
The office of former Tory public safety minister Steven Blaney defended the move, saying the government must combat terrorism.
“We will continue to ensure that our police forces have the tools they need to protect Canadians against this evolving threat of terrorism,” Blaney’s press secretary, Jeremy Laurin, wrote in an email.
Driver’s lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, argued in a November 2015 court appearance that his client was not a threat and was only voicing his political opinions.
He said the peace bond conditions being sought by the government were too extreme and unconstitutional, and were impacting Driver’s ability to get a job.
Driver was also banned from going on the Internet or having any communication with ISIL, including having any object on his person that bore an ISIL logo.
Later, the Crown announced some of his strict bail conditions had been lifted and he would not be going to trial.
Under the peace bond agreed to by both sides, there was an acknowledgment there were grounds to fear that Driver might help a terrorist group.
However, he was allowed to remove his monitoring bracelet and no longer was required to undergo religious counselling. He continued to be prohibited from using a computer or cellphone — rules that were to be in place until the end of August.
Throughout his legal tribulations, little was known about Driver himself. His father and step-mother — his own mom died when he was seven — also lived in Winnipeg. Neighbours told the CBC he rarely went outside, though they also didn’t think he was unusual or a bad person.
The CBC also reported that his father worked in the military and the family moved around a lot, living in Edmonton and London, Ont., where it’s believed Driver converted to Islam as a teenager.
In Strathroy, Ont., all Wednesday evening, a large police presence could be seen outside Driver’s residence, a nearby resident told The Canadian Press.
Police and government officials were tight-lipped about the violent events that unfolded there. However, the RCMP said it had received credible information of a potential terrorist threat earlier in the day.
A suspect was identified and the “proper course of action has been taken” to ensure that there was no danger to the public, a carefully worded statement said.