The man behind the recent threat to Canada’s national security, Aaron Driver, was a vocal ISIS sympathizer who became radicalized on home soil.
Driver was killed in an exchange with police Wednesday in southern Ontario after authorities learned he planned to attack an urban centre during rush hour sometime this week.
Here’s what we know about the 24-year-old’s path to radicalization.
‘From one extreme to the next’
Driver’s father says as a young child Aaron was “happy-go-lucky.” When he was seven, his mother got sick and died from brain cancer.
“That’s kind of when the lights went out,” said Wayne Driver on Thursday to Global News, from his home in Cold River, Alta. “He never went through the grieving process. He got very angry. He was angry with me. He told me he wished it was me instead of her. They were very close.”
Over the next few years Aaron became a “handful” and was sent to live with his sister, then his brother, before ending up back with his father and stepmother. Aaron was running away, skipping school and acting out; he eventually ended up a ward of the courts and lived in a halfway house for boys.
At the age of 21 he returned to live with his father in Winnipeg, where he stayed from 2012 to 2014. By then he had converted to Islam. He stopped drinking, had a job and was going back to school.
“It went from one extreme to the next,” said Wayne, who said it looked like his son was turning his life around.
When Wayne, a member of the Canadian Forces, was sent to Cold Lake, his son stayed in Winnipeg.
Then in January 2015, Wayne was contacted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), who wanted to speak with him about his son’s social media activity.
“They told me about his tweets and his Facebook pages, different things he was liking and sharing and said they were afraid he was being radicalized.”
It was around then Aaron made national headlines as an ISIS supporter. Using the name Harun Abdurahman, he had voiced support for the deadly lone wolf attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.
Wayne says he tried to talk to his son about his posts; sometimes Aaron would laugh it off, or get “serious and say, ‘well I believe they deserved it.'”
In June 2015, members of the RCMP national security section arrested Aaron in Winnipeg. His residence was searched and a recipe to make homemade explosives was found on his computer.
He was released on bail, and later agreed to a peace bond. He moved to Strathroy, Ont., to live with his sister, who has four children, in July 2015.
‘He was very much pro-ISIS’
Driver’s radical attitudes didn’t change while living in Strathroy, a sleepy community of just over 20,000 people about 220 kilometres southwest of Toronto.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, had spoken to Driver for his research about foreign fighters and domestic radicalization.
Amarasingam first communicated with Driver through social media before holding a more formal interview after Driver accepted the peace bond.
“He considered himself a member of the Islamic State in Canada,” said Amarasingam. “He was definitely radicalized in the typical sense, he was very much pro-ISIS and wasn’t shy about expressing it.”
Amarasingam said Driver’s views on the use of violence were fairly “nuanced” and recent violence during Ramadan and the videos of other “lone actors” may have led him to act on his views.
“When I spoke to him earlier this year in March and April he was very much pro-ISIS and considered the group to be legitimate, but wasn’t really talking about violence. He was living at his sister’s house in Strathroy and working. He had friends and attended mosque regularly.”
Driver’s former lawyer Leonard Tailleur said Thursday he was shocked to hear of his client’s violent end.
“Absent his conversion to Islam and his contacting through various Internet means – ISIS or individuals associated with ISIS purportedly – nothing would have indicated he would take it to the next step,” said Tailleur.
“There was no indication of violence whatsoever. He was a very passive individual.”
The exchange with police that led to Driver’s death Wednesday was prompted by a very violent threat. The RCMP had received “credible information” an attack was being planned, and was monitoring Driver in the town.
The tip came from the FBI; a video had surfaced of Driver warning of an imminent attack.
“O Canada, you have received many warnings. You were told many times what will become of those who fight against the Islamic State,” Driver said in the video.
WATCH: Canadian terror suspect Aaron Driver made threats against Canada in ‘martyrdom’ video
Exactly what pushed Driver to attempt to take action against Canada remains unclear.
What we do know is that Driver detonated a backback carrying explosives as he attempted to leave his sister’s Strathroy home in a cab Wednesday afternoon.
Police say they have not yet determined if Driver died from wounds sustained from the explosion or from gunfire.
The taxi driver remains in hospital.
‘Canada seems to be very reactive, and not proactive’
Christianne Boudreau’s son Damian was killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria in 2014. She says there is a glaring lack of resources available in Canada for individuals at risk of radicalization.
“It’s very easy to happen, quite honestly. I mean the setting and the environment today make it that it’s quite a struggle for youth and they don’t have very many outlets to turn to for any mentorship or anything else,” said Boudreau.
She says families struggle to find help or support when they identify a loved one is going down that path.
“They’re left pretty much on their own to handle something that can be very complex, emotional and trying,” she said, adding many often “turn their back” out of fear.
Since losing her son, Boudreau founded the Extreme Dialogue initiative to give families and youth somewhere to turn to “reduce the appeal of extremism among young people.”
The Driver family was left on their own in very dangerous territory, she says.
“There should have been much more intervention and support for the [Driver] family throughout this whole time,” said Boudreau.
“It just wasn’t there.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said it’s the responsibility of Canadians to combat homegrown radicalization. He said Thursday the Liberal’s proposed office on counter-radicalization is underway.
“The work toward counter-radicalization is just exceedingly important,” said Goodale. “Canada’s obviously very anxious to maintain the open inclusive and generous nature of our country.”
WATCH: Public safety Minister Ralph Goodale on terror threat
“We have to find the means through research and other methods to reach out to those who would be vulnerable and to find the ways effectively to intervene with the right people at the right time with the right messages to try to head off these tragedies before they occur.”
Boudreau fears Canada won’t take real action on homegrown radicalization until it’s too late.
“Canada seems to be very reactive and not proactive, I think it’s going to take some sort of catastrophe with a lot of lives lost for them to look back and say ‘maybe we should do something now,'” said Boudreau.
“And they have a prime opportunity to start putting things into place in advance to avoid all of that.”
With files from Andrew Russell