A cutting-edge surveillance plane used by Canadian special forces flew over the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa despite a military directive against such overflights.
The Canadian military issued a directive on Jan. 27 saying its vehicles and personnel should avoid the downtown Ottawa protest and the Royal Canadian Air Force shouldn’t fly over it, reported the Ottawa Citizen.
Special forces leaders justified going around the directive by saying the plane was owned by a private defense contractor.
“The amplifications provided by the RCAF through this directive did not apply to these training activities, which were contracted outside of the RCAF,” Department of National Defence (DND) spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier told the Ottawa Citizen.
DND said the training flights were pre-planned and unrelated to the protest.
Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa researcher who tracks ships and planes, previously told the Globe and Mail that the surveillance plane flew sorties several times during the weeks the Freedom Convoy was in Ottawa, with flights commencing on Jan. 28 when cross-country trucker convoys began arriving in the nation’s capital.
Watkins also said the U.S.-registered 350ER King Air was flying patterns over Ottawa which are consistent with Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions that typically occur over theatres of war.
“In a spectacular show of the worst situational awareness possible, [Canadian Special Operations Forces Command] figured the public wouldn’t notice the American-registered custom-modified spy plane, obfuscated its presence, and conducted their surveillance “training” over Ottawa, in defiance of their directive,” said Watkins on Twitter on May 16.
Canada has purchased three such planes that are outfitted with equipment to intercept telecommunications and capture high-resolution imagery but hasn’t received them yet.
The plane’s raison d’être is to collect intelligence, and training over Ottawa means its sensors were likely being used. The questions that remain are: If the material was collected, was it retained? If it was retained, was it processed and analyzed? If it was processed and analyzed, was it used to inform military leadership and the government?
And all of this would be illegal unless the government invoked the National Defence Act to have the military provide support to law enforcement to collect information on Canadian citizens.
Conservative MPs asked the government if the act had been invoked and if DND collected information on Canadians, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brushed it off as an attempt to “gin up fears and conspiracy theories” in the House of Commons on May 4.
“What the official opposition is playing with right here is dangerously close to misinformation and disinformation, when they choose to make political hay out of something that could be concerning to many people if it were true, but it’s simply not,” Trudeau said.