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editorial

A Surete du Quebec (SQ) officer investigates an overturned vehicle in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec October 20, 2014. Two Canadian soldiers were injured in a hit-and-run in the province of Quebec on Monday by a male driver who was later shot by police officers, said a spokesman for the Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi(CANADA - Tags: CRIME LAW MILITARY)CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

Martin Couture-Rouleau was a homegrown terrorist, and before he ran down two soldiers with his car on Monday, killing one, he was already well known to police – extremely well known. On Tuesday, the RCMP revealed that Mr. Couture-Rouleau, who styled himself "Ahmad the Convert" on some social media sites, had come to their attention last June, after his parents became concerned about his increasing radicalization. Police met with him, his family and his imam on multiple occasions. Their last meeting was on Oct. 9. And earlier this year, when he tried to get on a plane to Turkey, apparently with the intention of joining a group such as the Islamic State in Syria, police detained him, identified him as a high-risk traveller and seized his passport. But despite authorities having spent months concerned about the danger he posed, he was never charged.

Those facts are going to raise a lot of questions about why police and Crown prosecutors didn't do more to put him behind bars before he got behind the wheel. There will be calls to give the authorities more power to arrest and try people who may pose a danger to their fellow Canadians. The challenge is that our legal system has always rightly maintained that while people can be charged for a crime they have committed or ones they are clearly preparing to commit, they cannot be charged for something they have not done or shown clear signs of intending to do.

We criminalize actions – including the act of travelling halfway around the world to join a terrorist organization. A number of Canadians are believed to have done so in Syria and Iraq, and any who return are subject to arrest and trial. Canadians attempting to leave the country for the purposes of joining those same jihadist groups have also been arrested and tried; last July, Mohammed Hasan Hersi was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being stopped at Toronto's Pearson Airport, en route to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Was Mr. Couture-Rouleau in contact with radicals overseas? Did he have associates in Canada? Or was he entirely solo and self-radicalized; one of a handful of troubled young men infected with fantasies of cleansing the world through violence? Why were no charges laid when he tried to leave the country, apparently with violent intent? Many questions have been answered; many remain.