Wayne Driver, a retired military officer whose youngest son Aaron Driver died after detonating an explosive device inside a taxi during the confrontation with police in Strathroy, Ont., told the Star that the family also plans to give him a Islamic funeral Thursday — on what would have been his 25th birthday.
“We’re going to respect his beliefs,” said Wayne Driver, shortly after arriving in London, Ont., Monday to plan his son’s burial.
Both Driver and Aaron’s older brother, Rob, say they were told by the RCMP that an autopsy concluded the 24-year-old died from one of two gunshots wounds. Driver said he was told that one bullet pierced his son’s spleen, and another went through his heart and liver.
In the wake of the incident, police said the exact cause of Aaron’s death was unclear.
A spokesperson for the Ontario coroner’s office would not comment on the autopsy, citing privacy legislation and an ongoing investigation, but confirmed that one was performed.
Driver said that while his son’s death has been “gut-wrenching,” he doesn’t blame police for shooting him.
“He could have blown up half the neighbourhood, right? So for them to take lethal action, I don’t blame them,” he said. “They were just trying to make him surrender.”
Rob told the Star via instant messaging that his brother’s death, and the manner in which he died, has been disorienting. “Sometimes you feel OK, then other times you feel numb or you are falling apart,” he said.
Aaron Driver’s death was reported around the world after the RCMP released a video purporting to show the Regina-born man wearing a balaclava and vowing to bring terrorist violence to Canadian soil. After reciting a Muslim prayer in Arabic, he accused Canada of waging “a war on Islam” and warned: “You still have Muslim blood on your hands, and for this we are thirsty for your blood.”
Police have said that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation provided the video and warned RCMP last Wednesday morning that an attack was planned on a major urban centre during the morning or afternoon rush hour at some point over the following three days. Eight hours later, Mounties had tracked down Aaron Driver and watched as he emerged from his sister’s house and darted into a waiting taxicab.
The confrontation soon escalated, with police opening fire and the suspected terrorist detonating an explosive device inside the cab. The driver, who has not been named, escaped with minor injuries.
The RCMP declined to comment about the shooting on Monday as the Ontario Provincial Police investigates the death.
The OPP did not return requests for comment.
As they gathered in London on Monday, Aaron Driver’s family started to process of saying goodbye.
The last time Rob Driver saw his brother was last week, when they watched a movie together at their sister’s house in Strathroy. He said Aaron had lived there for about a year and seemed to be doing well working at a small auto parts manufacturer.
“Nothing was different . . . . He seemed fine,” Rob Driver said of their final meeting.
Aaron’s father doesn’t remember the last time he saw his son. Wayne Driver said Aaron had been estranged from much of his family for years, leaving home when he was 16 and then dropping out of high school while living in a group home. He said his youngest child had an emotional upbringing, which included his mother’s death when he was just seven and the loss of his son, who died during childbirth when Aaron was 19. He was profoundly affected by both losses, Driver said.
He supported his son’s conversion to Islam until he realized how radical he had become. Driver said sometime around Christmas 2014, he was contacted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Committee. Driver recalled feeling sick and perplexed when shown an inch-thick file outlining his son’s online comments. He said it included photos of mass graves and people who had been beheaded, with his son allegedly claiming the people depicted deserved to die.
“I don’t understand,” he said, explaining that he’s always felt such acts epitomize cowardice and cruelty.
“It’s not like butterflies. It’s like somebody has punched you in the stomach.”
While he and his family grapple with the loss of Aaron, and the allegation that he planned to kill innocent Canadians, Driver said he is trying to remember his son as a child. One moment in particular sticks out, Driver said — teaching Aaron to roller-skate, just before his mother died.
“It’s one of my favourite memories,” he said. “I’d rather remember him that way.”
The alleged attack plot has raised questions about why Canada’s national security apparatus learned of the suspected terrorist threat through an American law enforcement agency. Police have also been asked how someone who was arrested last year on suspicion of connections with members of Daesh — also known as ISIS or ISIL — and placed under a special peace bond restricting his travel and Internet use, could allegedly get so close to pulling off a terrorist attack.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was in Montreal Monday, where he was expected to talk about how the Liberal government in Ottawa is preparing a program designed to reach out to people who are vulnerable to radicalization, The Canadian Press reported. Details aren’t expected until a later date.
In a statement Sunday, Goodale said co-operation between agencies like the FBI and the RCMP are “consistent with the robust security alliance” between Canada and the U.S.
“It’s important for Canadians to know that our agencies and their global partners are monitoring potential risks and threats all the time — 24-7, 365 days a year,” he said. With files from The Canadian Press and Star staff