Foiled attack puts spotlight on Canada PM's security revamp

August 12, 2016 4:17 PM EDT

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 on a major Canadian city, is projected on screens during a news conference with Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RC

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By Andrea Hopkins

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The death of a Canadian supporter of Islamic State who authorities said was preparing an imminent attack has increased calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon his plan to scale back a 2015 law that gave increased powers to police and intelligence agents.

But those calls are unlikely to translate into widespread public resistance to changing the law, as long as the Liberal government can frame it as a change that protects civil rights, pollsters and political analysts said on Friday.

"The Liberals have to try to not fall into the trap of looking like they're weakening the legislation," said pollster Nik Nanos.

Aaron Driver, 24, was killed by police in a raid on Wednesday in a small Ontario town after authorities received "credible information of a potential terrorist threat."

News of how close Driver came to carrying out an attack sparked a call from the Conservative opposition and others for police and intelligence officers to have more power to stop would-be attackers.

Driver was under a so-called "peace bond" that restricted some of his activities. The conditions of that bond were relaxed in recent months, including a requirement that he wear a monitoring bracelet.

"They never should have varied the conditions. The second he took off that bracelet, it was over," said an RCMP source who declined to be named because the source was not authorized to speak to the media.


While Liberals supported the security law drafted by their Conservative predecessors, Trudeau campaigned on a promise to amend parts of it, dubbed C-51, and increase oversight to protect Canadians' civil liberties such as the right to protest.

"I'm guessing when you're in opposition you say one thing, and when you are in power you might say something else. Now that the books are open and there are full briefings, they may see things a bit differently," said Phil Gurski, a risk consultant and former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst.

But the Liberal government will stick to its plan on the law, said Dan Brien, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

One factor that may be motivating the government to stand firm on changing the law is possible legal pressure from liberties groups.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which filed a court challenge of C-51 in 2015, is waiting to see what changes the government will make before going ahead with its case, said Sukanya Pillay, executive director and general counsel.

"The government could lose control if you start having court findings that narrow your range of actions," said Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "They'd better take their first kick at the can while they can."

Driver's planned attack was not likely to change Trudeau's high poll ratings, experts said. Trudeau has a four-year term and a majority government, giving him the legislative power to change whatever he wants.

"Public opinion always changes in the short term after you've had an attack or a thwarted attack and then after a couple months, the public has a great capacity for amnesia," said Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian Studies Program at the University of Toronto.

(Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson)

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