The biggest story in Canada this weekend was the triumph of Penny Oleksiak, the dazzling young Canadian who took the swimming world by storm. Lucky us. The biggest story could have been the triumph of Aaron Driver, the Islamist-inspired jihadi warrior, if he had blown himself up at a train station in Southern Ontario and taken a dozen innocent people with him.
We'll never know, of course. Just as Mr. Driver stepped into a taxi, police opened fire and he detonated a bomb. Officially, we don't know what killed him, but either way the Mounties got their man. I'm sorry they had to do it, but I don't have a shred of sympathy for him – only for his family, who saw him going to the dark side and were helpless to prevent it. Mr. Driver had rejected help. He sought out martyrdom. All the evidence indicates that he was a traitor to his country.
The RCMP don't get much good press these days. They're usually portrayed as the gang that can't shoot straight. Most stories about the Mounties are meant to tell us how sexist, racist and incompetent they are. They deserve a lot of credit for getting this one right. Around 8:30 a.m. last Wednesday, the FBI sent them a screen shot of a man with his faced masked, taken from a homemade "martyrdom" video. By 11 a.m., Canadian authorities had identified the suspect. At 4:30 p.m., when the man got into a taxi outside his house in Strathroy, Ont., police were waiting for him.
Many efforts have been made to minimize the threat posed by Mr. Driver. He was a lone wolf – a self-radicalized westerner who plotted in isolation. Like many would-be terrorists, he wasn't all that smart. (He released his martyrdom video early enough to get caught.) In any event, we were reminded, the statistical chance of being killed by a terrorist on Canadian soil is next to zero.
But even stupid people can get lucky. If this miserable misfit had succeeded, our national nonchalance would have vanished in a nanosecond – along with our trust in the authorities to keep us safe.
As it was, we were treated to lots of second guessing. Why wasn't he intercepted before he got as far as he did? Callers to a CBC Radio phone-in show expressed dismay that he had died in a faceoff with police. (CBC listeners are such nice folks.) His lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, was everywhere, explaining that nobody could have seen it coming because even though Mr. Driver was a full-throated supporter of Islamic State, he was a really nice guy. "There was no indication of violence whatsoever," Mr. Tailleur said. "He was a very passive individual. I can say he was probably one of the best clients I ever had."
It's not as if Mr. Driver wasn't on the radar. He'd expressed his support for IS on the CBC. In 2015, the Manitoba RCMP found a recipe for homemade bombs on his computer and had him placed under a peace bond to restrain his activities. The terms were relatively mild. He was supposed to stay off the Internet, wear an electronic bracelet and get religious counselling. The last two conditions were dropped after a judge decided they violated his constitutional freedoms.
Peace bonds have been criticized for being too unfair to ordinary people and too weak for real terrorists. Some people argue that the restraints they impose can drive someone to even more extreme behavior. Others say the real problem is lack of adequate supervision. At any rate, it's clear that at some point Mr. Driver decided to ignore the peace bond and try to blow people up instead.
Would more sympathetic forms of intervention have brought him back into the mainstream? Some think so. "I think that if Aaron Driver would have been approached with a more compassionate tone and gone through counselling and being talked to about the things that he had said on Twitter … there might have been a different path," said Michelle Falk, a human rights advocate. In fact, Mr. Driver did get counselling from the local mosque, which did its best to persuade him that blowing people up is not the true Islam. It didn't work.
Ralph Goodale, the minister of public safety, says Canada needs to step up its counter-radicalization efforts. I'm all for that. The trouble is, nobody knows what works. And nobody will ever devise the perfect combination of police powers and social intervention that will keep us completely safe. Like it or not, sometimes the only solution is the violent one.