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.
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).
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