Canada’s top secret task force isn’t so secret anymore, emerging from the shadows and landing in the public spotlight Friday in an unprecedented show of its specialized military skills.

Members of Joint Task Force 2, an elite group praised for its counter-terrorism operations around the world, participated in a complex simulation exercise in Hudson Bay and Churchill, Man., in front of cameras for the first time, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay looked on.

The simulation was part of Operation Nanook 12’s annual summer exercises and involved dropping Joint Task Force 2 operators from Griffon helicopters on a “vessel of interest,” played in the scenario by an oil-and-gas exploration ship from Cape Breton. Other soldiers, clad in black, surrounded the ship on inflatable boats.

The exercise helps special forces prepare for any ships entering Canadian waters illegally and other sea, land or air threats.

Harper, MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk, chief of defence staff, watched Operation Nanook 12 aboard the HMCS St. John’s.

“I was deeply impressed, and frankly, as a Canadian, I was unabashedly proud … of the skill and precision with which you performed,” Harper said later, addressing the Canadian Forces. 

Until now, Ottawa hasn’t publicly acknowledged the existence of Joint Task Force 2, which has done work in Haiti, Libya, Afghanistan and reportedly in Iraq, where a Canadian hostage was rescued.

The faces of the special group will never be seen, but officials say it’s important that the world knows they are a significant part of Canada’s military muscle.

“It's important for them to be seen and be contributing to Canada's overall defence because a lot of what they do is in the shadows,” Brig. Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of the Canadian Forces Special Operations Command, told reporters.

“It's more demonstrative today because there's more interest up there in just showing that we have the ability to reach out, anywhere, at any time,” said Maj. Gen. David Fraser, a retired military commander.

In a month or so, the Canadian Forces will be posting a recruitment video for the special task force on its website.

With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian