Should Canadians be informed about potential terror threats in light of Wednesday’s failed terror attack?

An image of Aaron Driver, a Canadian man killed by police on Wednesday who had indicated he planned to carry out an imminent rush-hour attack.
An image of Aaron Driver, a Canadian man killed by police on Wednesday who had indicated he planned to carry out an imminent rush-hour attack. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Many people are still reeling from last week’s news that Aaron Driver, a Strathroy, Ont. man known to the police as a terrorist sympathizer, was shot dead while trying to detonate an explosive device in a cab.

Canadian authorities received a tip from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations that pointed them to a martyrdom video in which a masked man vowed revenge for attacks against ISIS, and suggested that there would be a forthcoming attack in an unnamed public area. Police were able to identify Driver as the masked man and tracked him down in a cab trying to leave Strathroy with explosive devices.

During a news conference Royal Canadian Mounted Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana said had Driver been able to reach the destination he had in mind, “This could have ended with greater loss of life."

Police had sent warnings about a potential terror threat to other police agencies in Ontario as well as airport officials and transit officials in Toronto, including the Toronto Transit Commission on Wednesday morning, before the general public was made aware of the threat.

Though Canadians were made aware of the threat after it was over, the question remains whether Canadians should have been made aware of the threat at the same time as the authorities.

According to the RCMP, there wasn’t really a need for it as they were handling the situation.

As soon as the RCMP received the information, we immediately took action to ensure the public’s safety,” Cabana explained.

However, some people say that the public should have been warned sooner, especially as some authorities who were alerted apparently also told their friends and family before the public.

Though there seems to be no statutory duty on authorities to warn Canadians about potential terrorist attacks while they are ongoing, the police have a common law duty to protect life and property according to the Jane Doe case. In that case the court found the police failed in that duty because they did not inform women in a Toronto neighbourhood that a serial rapist was on the loose.

The flipside of the argument that the public has a right to know, is that one security analyst says this kind of information could cause public panic, and unless there is an imminent threat against a specific target there is no need to alarm the public.

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