Canadian defence minister was briefed on UFOs ahead of U.S. intel report

Ahead of the release of a much-anticipated U.S. intelligence report on aerial phenomena, former Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan received a briefing on UFOs.

Documents obtained by CTVNews.ca reveal the June 2021 briefing followed a flurry of mainstream media coverage about a then-upcoming report on U.S. military sightings of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP, the term American officials use for what are more commonly known as unidentified flying objects and UFOs.

“I expect I am not alone in noting the recent increase in comment regarding Unidentified Flying Objects in the media internationally, particularly in the U.S.,” Sajjan’s then-chief of staff wrote in a May 19, 2021 email to senior defence officials. “I believe it is prudent to request a full briefing for Minister Sajjan from the Canadian perspective on this issue.”

A lieutenant-colonel co-ordinated the effort. An accompanying five-page slide presentation included an overview of cases and procedures, which currently link the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with air traffic controllers, federal aviation authorities and a civilian researcher in Manitoba. CTVNews.ca acquired the slides and related emails through an access to information request.

It took six weeks of emails before a Department of National Defence spokesperson confirmed the briefing occurred in early June 2021, although they would not provide an exact date.

Sajjan, a former CAF lieutenant-colonel himself, was replaced as defence minister by Anita Anand in an Oct. 2021 cabinet shuffle and now serves as Minister of International Development.

“No, we have no records of subsequent briefs based on currently-available information,” the National Defence spokesperson said. “Minister Anand has not received a brief at this juncture.”

'VITAL INTELLIGENCE SIGHTINGS'

The briefing slides say approximately 1,000 UFO sightings are reported in Canada each year.

Emails and five-page slide deck below show how Sajjan received a briefing on “unidentified aerial phenomena” in June 2021. CTVNews.ca has redacted email addresses and phone numbers for privacy. Click here to see the document full screen.

The most recent case referenced was from May 2021, when the pilot of a Delta Air Lines flight over Saskatchewan asked air traffic controllers “about traffic well above them and moving right to left.” According to a publicly-available report from Transport Canada, the “controller advised that there was no known traffic in the area. The pilot replied that they couldn't figure out what it was either.”

The government aviation incident database, where this report was published, is peppered with 25 years of strange sightings from soldiers, police officers, air traffic controllers as well as pilots on military, medical, cargo and passenger flights operated by WestJet, Air Canada Express, Porter Airlines and more.

Transport Canada, the federal department that maintains the database, warns such “reports contain preliminary, unconfirmed data which can be subject to change.”

That data is mostly supplied by Nav Canada, a private company that owns and operates Canadian civil air navigation infrastructure such as airport control towers. When Nav Canada personnel receive UFO reports, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are also usually alerted.

“NAV Canada is the responsible agency for managing UAP-related reporting,” the slides prepared for the then-defence minister read. “CAF does not typically investigate sightings of unexplained phenomena outside the context of investigating potential threats or distress.”

A Nav Canada spokesperson said the company doesn’t investigate UFO reports, adding that their role is to forward information to federal authorities. They point to a Nav Canada guide to Canadian aviation procedures, which puts “unidentified flying objects” at the front of a list of “vital intelligence sightings” requiring reports. Other examples include “surface warships identified as being non-Canadian or non-American.”

A spokesperson from Transport Canada told CTVNews.ca that UFO reports “have no potential for regulatory enforcement and often fall outside the department’s mandate.”

“Reports of unidentified objects can rarely be followed up on as they are as the title implies, unidentified,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The U.S. government has funded UFO research programs almost continuously since 2007. The public got a rare peek at those efforts on June 25, 2021, when the U.S. intelligence community released an unclassified report on recent military sightings, which included UAP that “appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion.”

From drones to weather phenomena to top-secret technology, many potential explanations are floated for odd observations like these, and officials say they should not be interpreted as proof extraterrestrials are visiting earth. But finding answers requires investigation, and compared to government-funded programs in the U.S., little appears to be happening in Canada.

Opposition defence critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay believes Ottawa should be paying more attention to American developments, which recently included a bipartisan U.S. senate initiative to establish a new UAP research office.

“As our closest ally and NORAD partner continues to investigate the national security implications of UAP, it would be prudent for Canada to take a similar approach,” the former Conservative cabinet member said in a statement to CTVNews.ca. “Rather than ridicule and silence, it would be wise to take this issue seriously, with the objective of identifying the origins and intent of these UAP.”

'CANADA'S PRE-EMINENT UFOLOGIST'

Declassified records held by Library and Archives Canada reveal military UFO procedures and sightings dating back to the early 1950s. By the 1960s, responsibility was transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and scientists at the National Research Council of Canada, which ended their involvement in 1995.

According to the briefing slides obtained by CTVNews.ca, it wasn’t long before a civilian researcher described as “Canada’s pre-eminent ufologist”started receiving UFO reports directly from the military and Transport Canada.

Chris Rutkowski is a Winnipeg-based science writer and University of Manitoba communications professional who has led efforts to document more than 23,000 sightings since 1989 through the annual Canadian UFO Survey. Rutkowski told CTVNews.ca he was asked to provide material for the minister’s briefing as a “civilian advisor,” and that he last received official UFO data in early 2021.

“I have been called both a sceptic and a believer, which probably demonstrates that my position is appropriate,” Rutkowski said in an email. “We are long past the era of UFOs being a subject of ridicule. Well-trained observers have reported sightings of UFOs and UAP and there seems to be a renewed interest by both scientists and the military establishment in taking a closer look at this persistent phenomenon.”

Rutkowski, whose 10th UFO book is scheduled to be released this spring, would like to see a panel or committee formed to gather and examine Canadian cases. Findlay also thinks it’s time for Canada to be more active and open about UFOs.

“We believe the government should adopt a streamlined, whole-of-government approach to standardize the collection of reports across numerous departments and contractors, such as NAV Canada,” Findlay told CTVNews.ca in a rare statement on the subject from a Canadian politician. “Efforts should be undertaken to investigate and make those findings public in a responsible manner.”

UFO procedures remain unchanged in Canada, the Department of National Defence spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. When asked if information on the subject has been provided to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or his office, their response was, “not directly, no.”

CTV News was first made aware of Sajjan’s UFO briefing by an anonymous source, who shared documents acquired through Canadian freedom of information laws. CTV News verified those documents by filing a new access to information request with the Department of National Defence.

Edited by CTVNews.ca's Rachel Aiello, Brooklyn Neustaeter