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Here's how the Canadian government and military handle UFO reports

A pilot takes off during the departure of CF-18 Hornets in support of Operation IMPACT, in Cold Lake, Alberta in this October 21, 2014 file photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson) A pilot takes off during the departure of CF-18 Hornets in support of Operation IMPACT, in Cold Lake, Alberta in this October 21, 2014 file photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
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Late one night in April 2018, a cargo flight from New York to Alaska reported "an object flying sporadically, estimated at (18,000 to 24,000 metres) and moving at Mach 4" over northwestern Canada.

The report to Canadian air traffic controllers triggered alerts to transportation officials and the military. Outside of an email to a civilian researcher in Manitoba, there appears to have been no official investigation or follow-up.

  • A document containing 168 pages of reports like these has been included at the bottom of this article. The "vital intelligence sightings" from 2010 to 2020 were obtained from the Royal Canadian Air Force through a federal freedom of information request.

The unusual report is just one among many discovered by CTVNews.ca in an aviation incident database maintained by Canada's federal transportation department. Numerous access to information requests have uncovered more details on cases like these, as well as procedural documents that show how the Canadian government and military actively record, share and then largely ignore reports of unidentified objects and lights from police officers, soldiersair traffic controllers, members of the public and pilots on flights operated by WestJetAir Canada ExpressDelta and more.

As the Pentagon, NASA and U.S. lawmakers continue to investigate what they call UAP --- short for unidentified anomalous (or aerial) phenomena --- the Canadian government's top scientific advisor has also begun their own study, which will culminate in a public report in 2024.

"The Sky Canada Project was launched in the Fall of 2022 to study how Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) reports from the public are managed in Canada and to recommend improvements," the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada's website explains.

This is what CTVNews.ca has learned about Canada's UFO procedures.

'VITAL INTELLIGENCE SIGHTINGS'

In Canada, most reports of unidentified flying objects are captured by procedures known as "Communications Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings," or CIRVIS for short. First developed by the U.S. military during the Cold War to document potential threats, today CIRVIS reports in Canada trigger a flurry of alerts that link air traffic controllers, government officials at Transport Canada and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Nav Canada, a private not-for-profit company that owns and operates the country's civilian air traffic control infrastructure, tends to be the first point of contact when CIRVIS reports are made. Nav Canada's manual on Canadian aviation rules has a section on CIRVIS reports, which directs pilots to "immediately" alert air traffic controllers "upon a vital intelligence sighting of any airborne and ground objects or activities that appear to be hostile, suspicious, unidentified or engaged in possible illegal smuggling activity." The company even puts "unidentified flying objects" at the beginning of a list of CIRVIS examples that also includes foreign submarines and warships.

When a CIRVIS report is made, Nav Canada personnel notify federal aviation authorities at Transport Canada and a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron in North Bay, Ont. that's affiliated with Norad, the joint Canada-U.S. defence group.

The 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron in North Bay is the "nerve centre" of what's known as the Canadian Air Defence Sector. The squadron monitors Norad radar feeds and is responsible for identifying all air traffic approaching the country. 21 Squadron's CIRVIS procedures are found in a document known as "Checklist 16."

"This report provides vital information to the security of the United States and Canada which, in the opinion of the observer, requires very urgent action or investigation by the U.S. and/or Canadian forces," the checklist explains.

It includes a quick threat assessment and links to a form for collecting details like shape, size and speed, which are then faxed to Transport Canada and forwarded to Canadian Norad Region (CANR) headquarters in Winnipeg. 21 Squadron's fax cover sheet features its thistle emblem and the motto "Intruder Beware."

Information from reports can also be shared with Norad personnel in the U.S., and possibly even the Pentagon's current UAP research office, which is known as the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO). AARO hosted its first UAP forum for Five Eyes intelligence partners at the Pentagon in late May, which was attended by a representative from the Royal Canadian Air Force.

"We’ve entered into discussions with our partners on data sharing," AARO director Sean Kirkpatrick said on May 31. "They’re going to end up, you know, sending their information and data to us to feed into the process that we’ve laid out for how we’re going to do all this."

Procedures from Canadian Norad Region headquarters are outlined in "Checklist 213," which also places "unidentified flying objects" at the top of a list of CIRVIS examples. This document refers reports to Nav Canada and a civilian researcher in Winnipeg.

'HANDSHAKE AGREEMENT'

Chris Rutkowski is a science writer, retired University of Manitoba communications professional, and perhaps Canada's most prominent ufologist. In addition to the RCAF document, Rutkowski was also listed as the point of contact for UFO reports in a procedural manual from Transport Canada's aviation operations centre.

"I have been privy to details of UAP cases in Canada for more than 25 years and am honoured to have been asked to assist (the Department of National Defence) and Transport Canada in their management of UAP, and allowed such access to data for scientific research," Rutkowski told CTVNews.ca. "However, without adequate resources or funding to fully investigate these reports, my research has been incomplete."

Rutkowski, who has written 10 books and publishes an annual report on the subject, says he had a "handshake agreement" with Canadian authorities that began in the late 1990s. The longstanding arrangement was largely kept under wraps until being revealed in 2021, after news of an official American UAP report began to make international headlines. Rutkowski was also asked to provide material for a May 2021 UAP briefing held for former Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan.

"As of this year, I am still receiving some reports, although the frequency has greatly declined," Rutkowski said. "I can only assume there has been a change in policy within the Canadian government regarding UAP reporting procedures, but I am not certain of what that may be."

The RCAF and Canadian Norad policies still stand, according to a National Defence spokesperson. A spokesperson from Transport Canada said Rutkowski has been removed from the department's aviation operations centre manual.

"In an effort to distribute this information in fair and consistent manner available to all Canadians, as of June 2021, Transport Canada no longer sends such information to any specific individuals or entities," a Transport Canada spokesperson told CTVNews.ca.

The department cautions that the reports "contain preliminary, unconfirmed data which can be subject to change."

"Reports of unidentified objects can rarely be followed up on as they are as the title implies, unidentified," a Transport Canada spokesperson previously said.

The Canadian military also routinely states that it does "not typically investigate sightings of unknown or unexplained phenomena outside the context of investigating credible threats, potential threats, or potential distress in the case of search and rescue."

At least four cases appear to have met that criteria between 2016 and Feb. 2023, when a suspected Chinese spy balloon and three other objects were shot down in North American airspace.

Access to information requests and public records show UFO reports have also been submitted to individual Canadian military bases, the Canadian Space Agency, the National Research Council Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other provincial and municipal police forces. For sightings at sea, the Canadian Coast Guard has "MERINT" procedures, which list "guided missiles," "unidentified flying objects," and "submarines" as examples.

THE APRIL 2018 'MACH 4' REPORT AND MORE

The April 2018 cargo flight mentioned at the beginning of this story is one of Canada's better-documented cases. Records obtained by CTVNews.ca show how Nav Canada air traffic controllers notified the Royal Canadian Air Force and Transport Canada, which in turn emailed details and a CIRVIS report to Rutkowski in Winnipeg.

"If I had to come up with a plausible explanation, since Jupiter was low on the horizon that night and time, I would guess that the pilot was seeing it and that’s why he was unable to give a good estimate of the UAP’s altitude, speed or movement," Rutkowski opined. "What this case shows is that better investigation of UAP is definitely needed."

Rutkowski and other experts consulted by CTVNews.ca say key details are lacking from brief reports like these. They also questioned how the cargo flight pilot could estimate the object's incredible speed and altitude.

"However, even if the observer was able to accurate gauge it, the high speed and circular pattern strongly suggests something other than a flying vehicle," Iain Boyd, a professor of aerospace engineering and director of the Center for National Security Initiatives at the University of Colorado, told CTVNews.ca. "It was likely some kind of natural phenomenon that was perceived by the pilot and/or the flight sensors as a vehicle."

CTVNews.ca also filed an access to information request for all CIRVIS reports held by the Canadian Armed Forces. The 168 pages released more than 450 days later contains reports from 2010 to 2020, which are mostly documented in logbook entries from the RCAF's 21 Squadron in North Bay.

Those reports include a "red disc with a (blue) ring" that "was observed by several people and policemen" near Montreal in July 2010;  "an unidentified object in the Lake Erie vicinity" that was picked up on radar and spotted by two flights in September 2016; and a United Airlines flight heading to Edmonton that "reported an unidentified object approximately 8000 (feet) above him flying same direction very fast" in January 2017.

A report from December 2016 even involved Canadian CF-18 fighter jets being scrambled to investigate after an American Airlines flight from London to New York reported taking evasive action to avoid an unknown aircraft near the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Canada. Although two other passenger flights spotted something, the fighter jets couldn't find it.

'WHAT WE HAVE NOW IS AN INADEQUATE SYSTEM'

While experts are divided on what UAP represent and how reports should be tackled, they agree that more needs to be done to document and analyze sightings in Canada.

Donald "Spike" Kavalench is a recently retired Transport Canada surveillance pilot who also spent more than two decades flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

"There is just so much wrong with the official response and so much we need to do to be better prepared," Kavalench told CTVNews.ca. "What we have now is an inadequate system with an ineffective unclear chain of reporting and no standard operating procedures for response. The ministers of transport and national defence need to sort this out."

Boyd, from the University of Colorado, also described Canadian procedures as "inadequate." While Boyd believes most sightings are of natural phenomena, and definitely not of otherworldly origins, he thinks some UAP could be sensitive military equipment, and thus should be treated as both a potential national security and flight safety issue.

"With elevated concerns over espionage from other nations, notably China, perhaps this is the time for Canada to implement more active and in-depth procedures, similar to the U.S.," Boyd said. "To me, it is primarily a military issue that would require a much more comprehensive technological approach to yield any significant progress."

Robert Powell is a Texas-based engineer and founding board member of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies, an international think-tank dedicated to applying scientific principles to UAP research. Like Boyd and Rutkowski, Powell also believes more importance needs to be placed on reports in Canada, but he is seriously concerned that military interests "do include open data and public science."

"The U.S. defence industry places national security at the apex of all endeavours and this may impact the ability of the U.S. to properly address the UAP subject," Powell explained. "Canada, on the other hand, may be able to take a more open and scientific view of the UAP mystery if Canadians get behind such an effort."

Launched in 2022, the new Sky Canada Project from the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada plans to deliver its report and recommendations on Canadian UAP procedures in 2024. It is the first known official UAP study in Canada in nearly 30 years. Rutkowski, the UFO researcher, hopes it results in reports being made available to researchers again.

"I think the Sky Canada Project is a good step towards determining how UAP reporting and reports should be managed within Canadian government agencies," Rutkowski, the Winnipeg-based UFO researcher, said. "The findings of the Sky Canada Project will hopefully lay out how Canada can best participate in the current international interest in UAP and contribute to scientific understanding of the subject."

Do you have an unusual document or observation to share? Email CTVNews.ca Writer Daniel Otis at daniel.otis@bellmedia.ca.

Background

The "vital intelligence sightings" from 2010 to 2020 were obtained from the Royal Canadian Air Force through a federal freedom of information request.

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