Monthly Archives: August 2016

Forty-One-Year-Old Man Killed by Sûreté du Québec (August 26, 2016)

A 41-year-old man was shot and killed by officers of the Québec provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), on Friday, August 26, 2016. The killing took place in the town of St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, near Drummondville, about 115 kilometers northeast of Montréal after two SQ officers apparently responded to a call at approximately 9:45 PM. Police report that the man and a woman, who apparently were in a non-marital relationship, had supposedly argued over ownership of a cell phone. The woman was said to be in a neighbor’s house at the time police arrived. Police have also reported that when they arrived the man was holding a knife. Neighbors have reported hearing two shots fired. The woman’s eight-year-old daughter and father were also at the scene.

Six investigators with the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), the Bureau of Independent Investigators, which investigates incidents of police harm to civilians in Québec, are investigating the killing of the as yet unnamed victim. Notably, and alarmingly, the Montréal police department is also working on the investigation. This violate principles of independence and autonomy in investigations of police wrongdoing and once more involves police investigating police (or interfering with investigations of police).


When is a Terror Bomb Something Else?: On the RCMP Killing of Aaron Driver

The killing of Aaron Driver by RCMP on August 10, 2016, in what police have claimed was an anti-terrorism sting has raised a number of serious questions about the nature of the RCMP operation, the police relationship with Driver beforehand, the timing of the police intervention, and the seriousness of the threat, if any, actually posed by Driver. The only information circulating publicly is based on the word of the police and the lone known witness the cabbie, Terry Duffield, called by Driver before the police ambush and in whose taxi Driver was killed by an RCMP bullet.

RCMP claim to have intervened against Driver on the basis of a tip by the FBI that someone in Canada was planning an imminent terrorist attack in a public space. Yet their actions in approaching and killing Driver call into question the response taken to what police are claiming was a real, imminent, threat.

 

What Manner of Terror Bomb Explodes Killing No One?

Police initially intimated that Aaron Driver had been killed by a bomb that he held and which he detonated upon seeing police approach the cab he was sitting in. Yet an autopsy released by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who are investigating the actions of the RCMP has apparently revealed that Driver was killed by police bullets. The autopsy showed that several police bullets struck Driver, piercing vital organs (Rieti 2016).

Aaron Driver’s father, Wayne Driver, reported that his son was killed by a police bullet that struck his heart. The supposed bomb he carried could not have killed him. According to Wayne Driver:  “It was the police officer’s bullet that killed him. The bomb that exploded he could have walked away from with minor to severe injuries they said” (quoted in Bell 2016a).

According to police Driver was even allowed to leave the vehicle after the explosion. In the words of RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana: “Subsequent to that he came out of the cab and was standing up and was not following the direction that was provided” (quoted in Bell 2016b). And police had no opportunity to act before then given the imminent peril they claim?

This raises one rather large, fundamental, question. How could a bomb that was supposed to pose an imminent threat to broad public safety not be powerful enough to kill even the single person holding it on his lap? Now it is possible that Driver simply messed up in making it. It is also possible, especially given questions raised below about the police actions and the timing of their intervention that they had some knowledge of the bomb beforehand and had reason to expect that the bomb would do little or no harm. Perhaps because police had designed it and helped prepare it, as a dud, in much the manner they did for John Nuttall and Amanda Korody in entrapping that unfortunate couple.

 

Danger to Whom?: Why Not Protect the Cabbie?

The Strathroy, Ontario, taxi driver in whose cab Aaron Driver was shot and killed would certainly like to know why the police did not act sooner to protect him and to intercept the supposed terrorist before he entered the taxi carrying what RCMP have claimed were two bombs. RCMP officers already had Driver’s home surrounded when Terry Duffield drove his taxi cab into the driveway around 4:30 PM. According to police they swarmed the cab within seconds of Driver entering the back seat. Police claim that with the approach of police Driver detonated one explosive. RCMP claim that it was only in response to that detonation that they shot and killed Driver. In addition to the questions about the nature of a bomb, and its potential to cause mass harm, which could detonate in someone’s lap and not even kill that person directly, there is the question about why police waited, if they really believed Driver carried a serious bomb that posed substantial threat, until he was inside a car with an innocent bystander before approaching him. Why would they give him a chance to detonate the supposed bomb or bombs at all?

For his part Terry Duffield is furious with how police acted, risking his life if their account is true, and is promising legal action against the force. Duffield claims he is still dealing with the shock of that morning’s events and is taking medications for the resulting back pain and stress. In his words: “There will be legal action taken on this. They put my life in jeopardy” (quoted in CBC News 2016). Duffield, like many observers, is perplexed, to say the least, that police, if they really believed they were dealing with a terrorist carrying explosives and out to launch an “imminent attack,” would not stop the suspect before he put a bystander’s (the public’s) life in danger.

In Duffield’s view, police could have and should have done more to protect him than they did. In his words:

“I don’t think police handled it very well at all. They did absolutely nothing to help me. At no time did they try to warn me. At no time did they try to stop my vehicle from entering the address…This gentleman was allowed to walk in front of my car, down the side of my car, get in my car and all of these sharp-shooters, all these SWAT teams and all these people who were supposed to be around, nobody did anything until after the bomb went off.” (quoted in CBC News 2016)

This raises real, significant, questions. It makes the critic wonder if police had reason to believe that Driver’s bomb was a phony, incapable of exploding, much like the one that RCMP helped to build for John Nuttall and Amada Korody in their infamous entrapment case of two poor, marginalized, people dealing with addition and mental health issues in Surrey, British Columbia three years before the river case. Perhaps police believed the bomb was no bomb at all (because they had assisted in or directed its’ making). Perhaps the cabbie was part of the public anti-terror takedown gone wrong (there is no evidence of this at this point and Duffield would seem sincere in his claims). In initial reports it was said that Duffield jumped from the taxi before the bomb was detonated. More recent reports (CBC News 2016) say that police ordered him to leave the car after the bomb had already been detonated.

Duffield had a follow up interview with police and specifically asked why the force did not offer him any protection in their operation that morning. The cabbie remains dissatisfied that police offered him no explanation. The public seeks one as well. Duffield, who has retained a lawyer and intends to pursue legal action, and curious observers alike, are left to ponder.

 

Maintaining Secrecy and Unaccountability in Anti-Terror Cases: No Independent Investigation

Confounding all of this is the fact that there has been, and there will be, no independent public investigation into the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver and any or all of the questionable circumstances surrounding it. Provincial police have been tasked with the investigation into Driver’s shooting at the request of the Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service (Rieti 2016). The OPP and Strathroy-Caradoc police “continue to jointly investigate the incident” under direction of the head of the OPP’s criminal investigations branch. That is, the police, and only the police, are “investigating” the police in this case. That has been a consistent recipe for cover up, hush up, distortion, and distraction. And legitimation.

All of this is in keeping with the secrecy, lack of transparency, obfuscation, and disassembly that have been the hallmarks of anti-terror practices in Canada. This includes the secretive actions of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (Canada’s NSA) as well as notorious instruments like security certificates which violate all notions of due process and allow for the state to detain people for indefinite periods while subjecting then to “trials” without disclosure or even a reading of charges against them, ad without proper representation or defense.

 

Further Reading

Bell, Stewart. 2016a. “ISIL Supporter Aaron Driver Was Killed by Police Gunfire, Not Explosive Device He Detonated, Family Says.” The National Post. August 16. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/isil-supporter-aaron-driver-was-killed-by-police-gunfire-and-not-explosive-device-he-detonated-family-says

Bell, Stewart. 2016b. “Aaron Driver’s ‘More Powerful’ Bomb Never Exploded, RCMP Says, Revealing New Details of Tense Confrontation.” The National Post. August 20. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/aaron-drivers-more-powerful-bombs-never-detonated-rcmp-says-revealing-new-details-of-tense-confrontation

CBC News. 2016. “Aaron Driver’s Cabbie Plans Legal Action against Police.” CBC News. August 18. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/aaron-driver-taxi-bombing-1.3726701?cmp=rss

Rieti, John. 2016. “Aaron Driver Autopsy Shows RCMP Bullet Killed ISIS Sympathizer.” CBC News. August 16. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/aaron-driver-autopsy-1.3722972


Few Details as RCMP Investigated in Death of Nicolas Jeppesen in Terrace, BC

For a small town detachment the Terrace, BC, RCMP have gained some infamy for violence against civilians, including civilian deaths. On August 21, 2016 Nicolas Allan Jeppesen (29) died after being tased by officers of the Terrace RCMP outside the town’s Mills Memorial Hospital. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the body that reviews police violence involving civilians, is investigating the RCMP involvement in Jeppesen’s death but few details have been provided to the public. The BC Coroner’s Service, which has a broader mandate for investigation, is also investigating.

What has been reported is that in the early afternoon of August 21, RCMP officers were called to the hospital following a report of a man carrying an axe and a possibility that he might do harm to himself. There has been no report that he posed a threat to anyone else. The man was reportedly seen near the area of the hospital’s mental health ward. Upon encountering Jeppesen RCMP used a Taser, a conducted energy weapon, to subdue the man. During the intervention by police the victim received undisclosed injuries, through undisclosed means, from which he died after being taken inside the hospital.

Josh Paterson of the BC Civil Liberties Association notes the concerns around fatalities associated with the use of Tasers by police. In his words:

“In general we’ve had lots of concerns about the use of conducted energy weapons, the reliability of conductive energy weapons, the safety of them. We understand that it’s a good thing for police to be turning to less lethal force options … but we’ve seen numerous incidents around North America that Tasers don’t end up always being non-lethal force.” (quoted in Nichols 2016)

There have so far been no independent reports offering information beyond what the RCMP have claimed. Yet there are almost certainly witnesses to the interaction. It is also possible that witnesses will not come forward given the reputation of Terrace RCMP and community fears that exist regarding the force.

 

Further Reading

Nichols, Trevor. 2016. “Man Dies after B.C. RCMP Deploy Stun Gun.” Kelowna Now. https://www.kelownanow.com/watercooler/news/news/Provincial/16/08/19/Man_dies_after_B_C_RCMP_deploy_stun_gun/


The State Protects the State: Evidence of Wrongdoing but No Charges for Police who Killed Anthony Heffernan

In the Canadian state context it is exceedingly rare for police who kill civilians to be charged with a criminal offence, no matter how egregious or obviously criminal their actions are. Often times so-called oversight agencies will exonerate the officers (sometimes because they do not receive full or proper disclosure from obstructionist forces or police associations, as the Ontario Ombudsperson has reported). In other cases the Crown will operate to shield officers who kill by refusing to bring charges even where the oversight agency has found evidence of wrongdoing by police. By refusing to bring charges the Crown acts to protect killer police officers from having to defend their actions in court and foreclosing even the possibility of conviction. The decision to withhold charges also deprives the public, and family members of the victim, from learning the identity of the officers responsible as the bringing of charges is often the only mechanism by which the identities of killer police officers are revealed publicly. Given the close associations and mutual professional benefits of positive relations between police and prosecutors (and the more straightforward interest of the state in defending its own operators) the choice of prosecutors not to charge police even in cases of apparent wrongdoing is not overly surprising.

Yet it is still disappointing particularly for friends and family members of victims and for community advocates. Another such disappointing case of prosecutorial shielding of police came out of Alberta on August 22, 2016 when the Crown prosecutor chose not to bring charges against the officers who killed Anthony Heffernan (27) in 2015, despite the fact that the provincial oversight body, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), found evidence of police wrongdoing through their investigation. Incredibly, the officer who killed Anthony Heffernan has since gone on to kill another man, Dave McQueen, a man in a wheelchair, in 2016. Tellingly the killing of Anthony Heffernan was the closest any police officer has come to being criminally charged for killing someone.

 

Comply or Die Policing Again: The Killing of Anthony Heffernan

Anthony Heffernan was a young man experiencing addiction and mental health issues who was shot multiple times and killed by police despite the fact that he was confined to a room in a Super 8 motel and posed no immediate danger to anyone but perhaps himself. Heffernan suffered three shots to the neck and head. The ASIRT report found that police could Heffernan through the partially opened hotel room door and they described him as “flushed, non-responsive and hyperventilating” (quoted in Grant and Fletcher 2016). Police described the victim as being “in medical distress” (quoted in Grant and Fletcher 2016) but there is no proper explanation as to why the response of officers was to shoot someone in distress, and confined to an enclosed space, multiple times. Heffernan was only holding a “small diabetic needle” with no point on it and a lighter. The entire incident lasted only 72 seconds. In that short amount of time police encountered, engaged, and killed a young man in distress and confined to a room.

This appears to be yet another case of “comply or die” policing in which someone is killed simply because they do not fulfill the authoritarian wishes of officers shouting commands. Indeed, in this case officers asserted that they shot Heffernan because he did not comply with their orders to drop the needle and lighter. A steep price to pay, summary execution, for failing to satisfy the authoritarian desires of police.

 

State Protecting State

The ASIRT report said that although “there is evidence capable of providing reasonable grounds to believe that an offence or offences have been committed, the Crown opinion has determined that the case does not meet the standard for prosecution” (quoted in Grant and Bell 2016). The family finds this twist of logic to be “shocking.”

To excuse their decision not to bring charges the Crown prosecutors, perhaps trying to defuse criticism of their controversial choice released a lengthy statement. It read in part:

“The evidence would be that he did so as a defensive action against an individual who was armed with a syringe, and who had been either unwilling or unable to comply with police directions.

“In all of these circumstances, it could not be disproven that the subject officer acted upon a reasonable belief that he and the other officers were at risk of serious or grievous bodily harm, and that his use of force was necessary.” (quoted in Grant and Fletcher 2016)

 

Calgary Chief of Police Roger Chaffin responded by saying he stands by his officer despite noting that he has been reassigned while working “through his own, particular issues” (quoted in Grant and Fletcher 2016). Notably the Chief of Police in Calgary has been so concerned with improper behavior in the force that he has gone on a public witch hunt against whistleblowers in the department who have spoken out against misconduct or named officers involved.

The lawyer for the Heffernan family, Tom Engel, notes that the officer involved in the shooting exercised his right to remain silent during the ASIRT investigation and refused even to give the police oversight agency his notes. This is an incredible privilege given police but denied civilians. It is one reason among many that so-called independent oversight agencies have been so ineffectual (or effective in shielding police) in every provincial context within the Canadian state. Notably, again, not bringing charges protects the officers from having to testify and hand over their notes so the Crown, even in this way, is protecting the officers from necessary public scrutiny regardless of a conviction or not.

The family is planning a civil suit against the police. This is often the last resort option to which families must turn simply to learn the names of officers involved in killing their loved one. In this case the family is hoping that the civil suit against Calgary Police Services and the officers who were in the Super 8 motel room will have to testify and turn over the notes. According to Tom Engel: “It just seemed that, with all those police officers in the room with all that fire power … [Anthony] was shot having nothing but a lighter in his hand and possibly approaching the officers, it’s a stretch to say it was a justifiable homicide” (quoted in Grant and Bell 2016).

Engel also points out the double standard that exists because officers are allowed to stay silent and keep their notes under the Police Act. Indeed officers are rarely if ever arrested when they kill someone, even under dubious circumstances. In Engel’s view:

“If the tables were reversed and Anthony Heffernan had killed a police officer, they would have arrested him on the spot and had him in for an intensive interrogation trying to break down his will to remain silent. But that’s not the case with a police officer, they don’t arrest him, they carry on an investigation for months or even years.” (quoted in Grant and Bell 2016)

In the case of a civil suit or fatality inquiry the officers would be compelled to testify and would have to turn over the notes. The officers were the only witnesses to the killing and their stories about what happened actually differed in key areas such as the movements of Heffernan before he was shot.

 

Anyone in Contact with Police is at Tremendous Risk: the Family Responds

The family was devastated by the Crown decision. Given the circumstances around the killing of Anthony Heffernan they expected the bringing of a rare charge of murder against the officer responsible (who would kill again earlier this year). Anthony Heffernan’s mother, Irene, had hoped “clear and just thinking would prevail, but it didn’t” (quoted in 2016). Heffernan’s father Pat says his son’s killing shows that people are at risk any time they come into contact with police. In his words: “It’s a sad day for all Albertans and Canadians alike. There is no justice in this case. Anthony is dead, and anyone else who comes into contact with police is at tremendous risk … because they [officers] are going to be supporting each other in whatever needs to be said” (quoted in Grant and Fletcher 2016).

This is another case that begs us to ask deeper questions about why police are called in the first place. It raises the effects of social isolation and moral panics, around drug use or mental health, which lead people to call police for behavior that is not harming anyone but may be unusual or disturbing. This is a matter manufactured fear and dependence on authorities. And it ends with someone dead at the hands of police upset that their orders have not been obeyed and trained to shoot first, second, and always. And knowing they will not be held accountable for the great harm they do, for the lives they destroy.

 

Further Reading

Grant, Meghan and David Bell. 2016. “Anthony Heffernan’s Family to Sue after Calgary Police Officer Cleared in Fatal Shooting. CBC News. August 22. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/civil-suit-planned-anthony-heffernan-death-1.3731681

Grant, Mehan and Robson Fletcher. 2016. “Calgary Officer who Fatally Shot Anthony Heffernan won’t be Charged.” CBC News. August 22. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/anthony-heffernan-calgary-police-shot-asirt-charges-1.3730911


Invasive Policing, Thought Control, and “De-Radicalization”: Fear Politics after the Police Killing of Aaron Driver

The shooting and killing of Aaron Driver (24) by RCMP in Strathroy, Ontario on August 10, 2016 has, as expected, served as a launching point for a variety of government trial balloons on increasing and expanding repressive state policies and practices under the panic conditions of publicly stoked fear over domestic terrorism within Canada. Some of the early proposals from the government may suggest to the concerned observer the manifestation of a sequence on re-education or de-programing from A Clockwork Orange. In any event it is clear that the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver has served the function (perhaps intentional from the point of view of the state) of providing the necessary cover to bring forward a new regimen of repressive anti-terror governance and social regulation. Even as more questions are being raised by the circumstances of someone being killed for planning a terror attack despite the fact that the bomb he supposedly detonated on his lap was not strong enough to kill even himself (as this week’s coroner’s report showed Driver was killed by a police bullet as he was shot twice by police) (Ballingall 2016).

 

Fear Politics and New Regimes of Repression in Canada

The police operation that ended in the killing of Driver was carried out within a specific context of growing calls for review, revision, or repeal of the Canadian government’s controversial and widely opposed Anti-Terrorism Act (better known as C-51). The timing of the Driver killing, in a period of public review and criticism of anti-terror legislation is not unique. Indeed previous recent cases, such as the police shooting of supposed “lone wolf” Michael Zehaf-Bibeau at Parliament Hill in 2014 and the announcement of the arrests of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody in 2013 (in a case since ruled in court to be entirely police entrapment), occurred within a context of discussion over the Canadian state’s anti-terrorism regime and policies.

Jeff Shantz and Hisham Ramadan (2016) have outlined the political mechanisms by which fear is converted to repressive policy, particularly within the context of even events associated, even falsely, with (imagined) terrorism. Their discussions detail and explain the manipulation of state involved “terror plots” and the public discussion of responses (by police, courts, government) to them in dramatizing the need for more repressive regimes to address supposed “home grown terrorism.”

Only a week after the RCMP shot Aaron Driver, a young man already processed through the courts and released on an anti-terror peace bond restricting his movements and access to cell phones and the internet, and the federal Liberal government is already, again as expected, making noises about new repressive policies which would allow for increased surveillance as well as intrusive measures to control people’s “bad thoughts.”

In a presentation to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in Ottawa, on August 17, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale revealed that the federal government is looking to make so-called counter-radicalization counselling mandatory for anyone under an anti-terrorism peace bonds. Notably, this provision has been part of C-51 but was struck down by a Winnipeg judge in the case involving Aaron Driver.

Goodale has insisted that a federal consultation on national security must be undertaken and he expects it to conclude by the end of 2016. Notably, Goodale has positioned this consultation as a means to innovate new repressive and intrusive measures rather than as a mechanism of ratcheting down anti-terror policies and procedures (such as ending security certificates which have been used to hold racialized, migrants under vague government claims of some association with terrorism, under conditions that violate due process or by abolishing the anti-terror list which is used to criminalize resistance movements that oppose ally states of the Canadian government).

Tellingly the Liberal government is using the police killing of Aaron Driver to openly promote the idea of counter-radicalization, which, in fact, they had raised before the Driver shooting and which had, at that time, raised obvious red flags for critics.  The federal government actually views the establishment of a federal office of counter-radicalization as a centerpiece of their anti-terror regime. The office of counter-radicalization would serve as “a national focal point for research, counselling and intervention services” (Bronskill 2016a). Goodale, in speaking to the chiefs of police re-stated the government’s prioritization of this center for controlling “bad thoughts” and re-education. And despite Goodale’s simultaneous claim that consultation and reflection are key to the government approach going forward he unapologetically presents this initiative as one that must happen without public consulation or review before the end of this summer. According to Goodale: “We are in the process of recruiting the person that will lead the effort. And we are determined to get this office up and running toward the end of the summer, the beginning of the fall. The incident is Strathroy demonstrates how very important this priority is” (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). Note that the police killing of Aaron Driver is openly asserted as the impetus for rushing the “bad thoughts” center into existence. Interestingly Goodale acknowledged that there had been efforts to de-radicalized or counsel Driver but they had not been systematic.

Goodale again referenced the Aaron Driver case, and what he supposedly represents, in justifying the de-radicalization, re-education center. According to Goodale, the government views as among its greatest security concerns the so-called “lone wolves” who are drawn to “extreme ideologies (Bronskill 2016a). In his words: “We need to understand what positive messages can counteract the insidious poison that draws people in, especially young people (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). No word from Goodale what the positive messages involve but one might guess from Liberal government practice they should include the benefits of war in Iraq and Syria and the selling of arms to the brutal terror regime in Saudi Arabia.

Minister Goodale has also raised the prospect of putting people released on peace bonds under constant surveillance. He noted that Driver was not under constant surveillance, something the RCMP bemoan. According to Goodale:  “That is obviously a lesson that one needs to look at very carefully, as a result of the incident in Strathroy. And we are examining very carefully what we need to do to make our police and security activity more effective” (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). Again, we should remember that peace bonds can be and are placed on people under virtually no evidence at a threshold much lower than would ever lead to successful prosecution. So the real result of the government proposal would be to allow constant surveillance of people who show no or minimal signs of actually engaging in a terrorist act. Such would have been contentious to say the least before the killing of Aaron Driver. It is now a supposed necessity, a lesson learned from that case. Goodale refused to comment on whether surveillance has in fact been stepped up for the dozen or so people who are currently under anti-terrorism peace bonds (Bronskill 2016a).

 

Turn Over Your Password: Invasive Policing and the Terror Panic

Minister Goodale was not prepared to stop there however and has raised the prospect of giving police what they want in terms of invasive policing. In his meeting with the chiefs of police Goodale also gave notice that Canadians “need to think about how far police should be allowed to go in accessing their electronic devices and communications” (Bronskill, 2016b). Indeed, following the Driver killing, the government is going to use the occasion of a federal review of cybersecurity to discuss a proposal prepared by the country’s police chiefs for a new law that would compel people to reveal their passwords with the court’s consent (Bronskill 2016b).

At his meeting with police chiefs, Goodale “acknowledged that smartphones contain a wealth of personal data and can reveal much more about a person than an ordinary physical search might” (Bronskill 2016b). While conceding that people do value their privacy, Goodale also suggested that people would be willing to compromise that concern in order to give police more tools, particularly to pursue terror related activities. According to Goodale: “I think Canadians recognize the imperatives on both sides” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b). Yet this is not a matter of weighing equivalences. Either police have access to deeply personal private information or they do not. And one must always ask under what circumstances they gain access. Again, connecting this access to a peace bond would be connecting it to potentially nothing in terms of real evidence or legitimate concern. Civil liberties groups and privacy critics have suggested that such legislation would be unconstitutional (something that has certainly never deterred police chiefs or their supporters in government).

While the public has shown no desire for such legislation or interest in debating it, Goodale is using the Driver case to suggest that debate on this policy is now needed. According to Goodale:

“This is a critically important subject area, and one that — for one reason or another — has not been subject to adequate public discussion. I think over the course of the fall, it will. And that will help us as a government and it will also help police forces and security agencies to define the parameters.” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b)

 

Never mind that there has been much public opposition to similar proposals from the former ruling Conservative government. He RCMP killing of Aaron Driver has changed the terrain of operations for the Liberal government. How fortuitous indeed.

Minister Goodale also used the occasion to raise the panic figure of the lone wolf in a basement. In his words:

“The hackers and scammers who are constantly trying to break into our information systems are a motley but potent combination of foreign states, militaries, terror groups, organized crime, petty thieves and vandals, and even that lonely computer geek in his underwear in the basement.” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b)

 

Goodale also noted that this is also a real opportunity for investment or profit for small and large firms alike. Again this is a further convergence in the anti-terror trajectory of neoliberal accumulation.

 

Conclusion

All of these utterances, musings, and proposals for repressive and invasive state policies and practices have been presented within the space of only a single week following the police killing of Aaron Driver. For those of us observing and commenting on government anti-terror regimes, fear politics, and state regulatory frameworks more broadly such moves by the government after the Driver killing were, far from being surprising, actually expected at least generally if not in these specifics (see Shantz 2016).

In this the police killing of Aaron Driver, within the context of an as yet unconfirmed attempt at terrorism, stands with other cases such as the Germinal collective set up in 2001, the Zehaf-Bibeau killing, and the Nuttall and Korody entrapment. We should expect that further, more extensive, invasive, and punitive policies and practices will emerge and be brought forward under the guise of public consultation (framed and shadowed by the Aaron Driver case). Such is the position of the killing of Aaron Driver within the manufacture of social phobias and fear in the current social and political context within the Canadian state (a state that is, remember, active in war).

 

Further Reading

Ballingall, Alex. 2016. “Terrorist Suspect Killed by RCMP Bullet, Family Says.” Toronto Star. August 16. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/08/16/terrorist-suspect-killed-by-rcmp-bullet-family-says.html

Bronskill, Jim. 2016a. “Feds Eyeing Mandatory Counselling for Terror Suspects under Peace Bonds: Goodale.” Winnipeg Free Press. August 17. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/feds-eyeing-mandatory-counselling-for-terror-suspects-under-peace-ponds-goodale-390442731.html

Bronskill, Jim. 2016b. “Should Police See Your Data? Think about it Says Goodale.” Toronto Star. August 17. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/08/17/should-police-see-your-data-think-about-it-says-goodale.html

Shantz, Jeff. 2016. “Degradation Ceremonies: Fear Discourses, Phobic Production, and the Military Metaphysic in Canada.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Shantz, Jeff and Hisham Ramadan. 2016. “Phobic Constructions: Psychological, Sociological, Criminological Articulations.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press


Deceptive and Repressive Force: The Aaron Driver Killing, Police Distortions, and Anti-Terror Cases in Canada

Serious questions need to be asked in the wake of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) killing of supposed terror suspect Aaron Driver (24), shot by RCMP officers on August 10 following an apparent tip from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). RCMP claim Driver detonated an explosive device in a cab and that he was killed because he had access to another device.  Among the questions that require answers are how someone who was on a terror peace bond which restricted his actions and access to the internet could compile information and materials to build a bomb and build it under such conditions. It must also be answered why someone under watch by RCMP as a terror suspect was able to leave his house with two supposed bombs with no intervention beforehand (and after the supposed tip was received).

These questions, and questions about RCMP anti-terror operations more broadly, are particularly pressing given that the killing of Driver comes within a month of a major court decision finding that the RCMP had entrapped two poor people, dealing with mental health and addiction issues, in a phony police created and directed “terror threat.” In that case the RCMP spent millions of dollars in labor and resource to target and prime two poor residents of Surrey, B.C., John Nutall and Amanda Korody, lavishing gifts and attention on them in an attempt to get them to go along with a fake terror plot instigated and planned by the RCMP. The court decision confirmed that the threat came only from the RCMP, who conceived it and provided all of the means to carry it out (the supposed bomb had no detonator), and who manipulated the reluctant and confused couple to go along, even as they offered resistance, for fear of losing the newfound benefits being provided by the RCMP (in meals, companionship, etc.).

Given this context the real, and fundamental, question is why anyone should trust and accept the RCMP version of events. This case has the markings of distortion and deception that mark other so-called anti-terror investigations in the Canadian state context from the Germinal Collective case (even before 9/11) to “Project Thread,” through the “Toronto 18,” to the entrapment of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. In the Germinal Collective, “Toronto 18” and Nuttall and Korody cases in particular, the police were actively, centrally, involved in the instigating, planning, encouraging, and operationalizing of terror acts that were never carried out (and never would have been in the absence of police). As Shantz (2016) writes, these cases are primarily designed and carried out to give the police justification for continued or expanded resources and to stoke social fear, social phobias (particularly Islamophobia, fear of migrants, and fear of poor people).

 

The Killing of Aaron Driver

The killing of Aron Driver by RCMP officers apparently began with a tip from the FBI that a person in Canada was possibly planning to carry out a terrorist attack. There have also been reports that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which operates the city’s subway, buses, and trolley cars, received a threat against the transit system. In response to the FBI tip, details of which are not known, the RCMP descended upon the home of Aaron Driver, a young man who had been arrested and released on an anti-terror peace bond for attempting to justify the actions of ISIS as acts of self-defense in a time of war. Driver had not been observed or charged for engaging in any activities related to terrorism. He had been targeted solely for his ideas and social media presence.

On the surface the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver, if one is to believe events as the police describe them, is fairly straightforward. On Wednesday, August 10, 2016, the federal RCMP converged on the house in which Aaron Driver was living in the community of Strathroy, a small city of around 20,000 people in southwestern Ontario. Sometime after 4:00 PM police observed Driver leave his residence and enter a taxi waiting in his driveway. Police report that shortly thereafter, as police approached the vehicle, Driver detonated an explosive device injuring himself and causing minor injuries to the taxi operator. The police also claim seeing a second device and responding by shooting Driver, killing him.

So far all of the details provided have come only from the RCMP who have been the only ones to claim to be witnesses to these events. Yet why should we believe the RCMP account? And what sorts of questions need to be asked about it? A closer look at the Driver case leaves many questions hanging in the air.

 

Punishing Bad Thoughts: The Aaron Driver Case

Of note, Driver had been initially targeted for punishment by police not for any suspected actions but simply for attempting to justify the actions of ISIS in online venues. That is, the police targeting of Aaron Driver was an early effort by the state to criminalize people simply for expressing “bad thoughts”—a repressive policy approach, in violation of civil and human rights, which Conservative and Liberal governments alike have pursued and sought to expand in the Canadian context (on the policing of bad thoughts see Shantz 2014).

Aaron Driver had come to the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in October of 2014 when he was reported to be tweeting support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria under the online name of Harun Abdurahman. Driver had also justified the 2014 attack on a ceremonial officer at Ottawa’s War Memorial and run to Parliament Hill (seat of federal government) by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, as a military response to Canadian military actions in Iraq and Syria. For this Driver was arrested and brought before the court in Winnipeg.

Driver was released on an anti-terror peace bond. Under its terms he was not allowed to associate with any terrorist organization and was under prohibitions against using a computer or cellphone. Driver was also required to live at a specified address in Strathroy, Ontario and to notify a specified RCMP sergeant should there be any changes in his address (Canadian Press 2016).

The peace bond allows for intermediate constraints on a person’s liberty on the basis of evidence that would not be sufficient to prove an actual terrorism offence (Forcese 2016). As one can see there are real spaces for abuse and unjust application with such an instrument. Indeed the court is unlikely to turn down any request by the federal government to apply an anti-terror peace bond.

And recall that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, who had spent three years incarcerated under what was nothing other than an RCMP entrapment scheme, were re-arrested mere hours after being released following the finding of entrapment. That was clearly a punitive (and mean-spirited) attempt by the government, and RCMP, to save some face or recoup some losses.

After Driver’s killing his former lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, stated publicly that there was no evidence that the young man was in any way directly affiliated with ISIS or with any other supposed terrorist organization (Canadian Press 2016). He found the claims of police against Driver to not fit with the man’s character as he knew him. According to Tailleur: “It’s shocking. Absolutely shocking, actually. He was generally looked to be low risk as long as there’s certain things that had been dealt with” (quoted in Canadian Press 2016)

Tailleur suggested that the killing of Aaron Driver raises some significant questions. He notes that Driver was almost certainly under regular police surveillance (Canadian Press 2016). In Tailleur’s words: “If he was doing his thing, it was kind of ridiculous because I’m certain he was going to be under scrutiny beyond his peace bond. Police would always monitor his whereabouts … They’d make him a priority” (quoted in Canadian Press 2016). So how could he compile materials and instructions to construct two bombs? How could he leave his house with the two bombs in hand? Why was he not stopped before entering a cab and putting a cabbie at risk?

Even from a liberal perspective many questions arise from the killing of Aaron Driver. Legal scholar Craig Forcese outlines some of these:

“How did someone known to authorities and subject to a peace bond get as far as posing a credible (and perhaps actual) suicide bomb threat?

“Why was the police intervention 11th hour, in the nick of time (and perhaps after it, given that there was a reported explosion causing injury)?

“Given the presence of a weapon and that there was apparently a computer video involved, Driver was in clear violation of his peace bond terms (and so basically automatically subject to imprisonment for up to 4 years). So why was there no arrest much earlier?

“Why was there no public warning?

“All of this is to say: Where was the early detection? Was this a resource issue? Did something go missing? Will be discussing a failure to ‘connect the dots’?” (Forcese 2016)

 

All of this leads inexorably to the question: “Was the Aaron Driver killing part of yet another entrapment case, like Germinal and like Nuttall and Korody, which somehow went too far or took an unforeseen turn?” Or: “Was it a dangerous game of chicken in which the RCMP miscalculated?” Regardless of one’s view on the matter of this killing by police, it is clear that answers will not be provided by RCMP or CSIS accounts alone.

 

What Comes of It: Fear Politics and Continuing Repression

To properly understand the real impact and consequences of the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver socially we need only look to current debates over anti-terror laws, particularly the controversial and widely unpopular Anti-Terrorism Act (better known as Bill C-51) initiated by the then-ruling Conservative government prior to the 2016 election, and the recent rebuke of RCMP practices in the Nuttall-Korody decision. This includes a call that emerged immediately in response to the Driver killing to review, and stiffen, terror related peace bonds, the same control mechanisms notably that the government seeks to impose on Nuttall and Korody and for which cause they were re-arrested shortly after their release following the entrapment decision. After the Driver killing the calls are to make the peace bonds even more restrictive and punitive.

The Driver killing comes as critics have been calling for the Liberal government to finally follow through on their election promise, prominent during the campaign, to revise C-51. Now the discussions of possible C-51 revisions will be shadowed by the Driver case and its use by security forces and politicians alike to defend the legislation and perhaps even build upon it.

The cynic will certainly note that on two other occasions in which C-51 and anti-terror laws were set to be debated in federal parliament the discussions were inflamed by highly visible so-called acts of terrorism. Perhaps ironically, the most recent one included the shooting of Canadian Forces soldier Nathan Cirillo by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the online justification of which brought river to the attention of the security apparatus in the first place. It might be noted that, in terms of definitions of terrorism, Zehaf-Bibeau only sought military and government targets and did not target or harm civilians even as he had ample opportunity to do so during his adventure in busy downtown Ottawa.

The reactionary Conservative Party of Canada, authors and shepherds of C-51, have already made this connection of the Driver case to the maintenance of intrusive anti-terror laws explicit. In the words of the Conservative Party’s interim leader Rona Ambrose the morning after Driver was killed:

“I salute and thank the law enforcement and intelligence officers who put their own lives on the line to stop this potential attack on innocent Canadians. Unfortunately, the Liberal government campaigned on a promise to strip these officers of some of the essential investigative and enforcement tools to do this work, which the previous Conservative government provided through Bill C-51, and which have already been wisely used to disrupt terrorist activities nearly two dozen times since last fall. I call on the Liberal government to ensure all of Canada’s security and intelligence services keep the tools they need to do their jobs.” (quoted in Wherry 2016)

 

Numerous concerns were raised by a broad cross section of the public in Canada immediately upon the announcement of Bill C-51. Concerns were raised that provisions in the legislation criminalize acts of civil disobedience, such as a protest or demonstration because these could be viewed as “unlawful” (in the absence of a permit, or in cases of trespassing, or marches in roadways). Other essential activities, such as a workplace strike or occupation or boycott could be viewed as terrorist acts on the basis that they impact economic structures or practices. Worries have also been stated about provisions that allow for the punishing of bad thoughts or propaganda rather than actual activities related to terrorist acts.

During the federal election of 2015 the Liberal Party, then seeking to succeed the Conservatives as ruling party, promised legislation that would address key concerns within C-51. Yet approaching a year later after taking power the Liberals have still not tabled even proposals on how they might transform C-51, leaving some critics to believe that the election promises were simply appeals for votes on the basis of countering widely unpopular legislation (which seemed emblematic of the authoritarian and repressive Conservative Party approach). The Liberal government has said in general terms that any new legislation would: “guarantee that all Canadian Security Intelligence Service warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy; narrow overly broad definitions, such as defining ‘terrorist propaganda’ more clearly;” as well as “limit Communications Security Establishment’s powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians” (quoted in Wherry 2016).

At the same time there is nothing to suggest, despite the intimations of the Conservative Party and their leader Rona Ambrose, that C-51 provisions played or could have played any part in a case like that of Aaron Driver. The RCMP supposedly acted on the basis of a tip coming not from their own surveillance or intelligence but rather from the FBI. In addition Driver was already subject to a terror peace bond which have been in operation since before C-51 took effect. Notably Driver’s legal team mounted a successful challenge which resulted in a Manitoba judge ruling against the provision in C-51 that allowed the courts to mandate religious counselling for an individual on a peace bond (Wherry 2016).

Another line of pursuit for repressive forces in the Canadian context involves calling into question the anti-terror peace bond, not on grounds that it threatens civil liberties and is too broad, but on obverse grounds that it is too lenient. On one hand there are calls for imprisonment of people simply on the basis of the low threshold evidence used in securing the peace bond. This would mean criminalizing bad thoughts, which, in fact, many police and politicians desire anyway. As law professor Craig Forcese suggests: “Incarceration depends, however, on a crime. And our terrorism criminal law already sets the tripwire for terrorism crime very far from actual acts of violence. (None of the two dozen or so persons in prison for post-9/11 terrorism crimes got further than plotting before they were charged and convicted)” (2016). Calls for incarceration on the low level of evidence provided for a peace bond will put many people in prison who pose no material threat to anyone (except perhaps to themselves). It will, however, give an opportunity for expansion of the security, surveillance, and policing apparatus as well as the prison-industrial complex, which is precisely what many police agencies and politicians alike desire.

Furthermore, some hawks will call for greater integration of security and intelligence services. This will include not only calls for tighter integration or greater communication and information transfer between agencies within the Canadian state (among local police forces, the RCMP, CSIS, perhaps the military). It will also include calls for greater integration and/or communication between the Canadian agencies and external agencies like the FBI or MI5. This will be highlighted especially given the apparently lead and crucial role played by the FBI in the Driver affair. Indeed even liberal critics like Forcese have been quick to proclaim that coordination between police and CSIS, as in the Driver case “is welcome” (proclaiming even before all the facts are known that “the system worked” in this case) (see Forcese 2016).

Menacingly the Liberal government has suggested a focus on counter-radicalization strategies. While they have provided not even general notions of what this might entail there are examples from other liberal democracies that open ominous possibilities, including the case in the UK in which legislation requires post-secondary faculty to report to police instances in which students appear to be radicalizing. Notably some have used the Driver example to argue that the so-called religious therapy provision in anti-terror peace bonds, deemed “deprogramming” by the court and struck down, should have been upheld and should now be imposed in future cases.

Following the Aaron Driver killing the Liberal government is clearly open to additions to the apparatus as part of the C-51 discussions. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, addressing questions after the Driver killing said the government will now “consult Canadians about what else they want to see in their national security framework” (quoted in Wherry 2016). What else indeed.

 

Conclusion

In all of this the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver provides another example of the political production of fear for purposes of state, particularly police, expansion. It provides another opportunity for the dramatization of evil by state authorities at various levels. This can in turn be used to shore up or develop new mechanisms of surveillance, criminalization, and punishment. It can be used to reinforce legislation, like C-51, that faces criticism and possible revision. It can provide the impetus for new, more repressive, legislation. It can be used to increase the flow of resources to agencies like the RCMP. In addition such moments of manipulable terror panic can be used to spread policing practices into other sectors. Such is the case in legislation, as in the UK that seeks to turn professors into spies, snitches, or cops.

All of this must be resisted. Police must always be challenged and countered on their exclusive descriptions of events (and monopoly on knowledge about the circumstances of such cases). Police accounts should never be accepted at face value. There must also be public mobilizations against any and all attempts to expand the security state apparatus. Furthermore, public manipulation of terror panics must be called out and attempts by state and media actors to manufacture social phobias confronted.

 

Further Reading

Canadian Press. 2016. “FBI Tip Led RCMP to Thwart Possible Terrorist Act by Aaron Driver in Strathroy, Ont.” CBC News. August 10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/terror-threat-arrest-rcmp-1.3715969

Forcese, Craig. 2016. “Aaron Driver Matter: Questions Awaiting Answers.” National Security Law. August 11. http://craigforcese.squarespace.com/national-security-law-blog/2016/8/11/aaron-driver-matter-questions-awaiting-answers.html

Shantz, Jeff. 2016. “Degradation Ceremonies: Fear Discourses, Phobic Production, and the Military Metaphysic in Canada.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Shantz, Jeff 2014. “Punishing Bad Thoughts: Next Generation Canadian State Repression.” Red Sparks. http://jeffshantz.ca/node/69

Wherry, Aaron. 2016. “What Aaron Driver Means for the Debate on Amending Bill C-51.” CBC News. August 12. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/wherry-aaron-driver-c51-1.3716909