Surveillance plane circling Ottawa during convoy protests was a military training exercise, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 4.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a surveillance plane circling Canada’s capital during convoy protests was just a military training operation and was not spying on those blockading downtown ‘Ottawa.

He slammed Tory MPs who on Wednesday in parliament accused the Canadian Armed Forces of providing surveillance during protests, saying opposition politicians were straying “dangerously close to misinformation and misinformation.”

As The Globe and Mail first reported on April 22, a US-registered King Air plane followed flight loops around Ottawa on February 10 during protests as part of what the ministry of National Defense called a Canadian Armed Forces training operation.

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The plane, with tail number N330TT, was seen making precise, repeated circles around Ottawa in a pattern that, according to Steffan Watkins, a capital researcher who tracks the movements of ships and planes , is consistent with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. He recorded at least 15 circles but said the plane sometimes inexplicably disappeared from public tracking systems.

“These patterns are very similar to other trajectories seen over foreign conflict zones when ISR missions were supposed to be underway,” Watkins said.

The King Air was followed by ADSBexchange.coma crowd-fed flight tracking website, flying over Ottawa for several days in late January and early February – from January 27 to February 11. He steadily disappeared from public following during this time.

The Canadian military is awaiting the delivery of three ISR aircraft – fitted with surveillance equipment – at a combined price of $247 million under a US government-brokered deal that will give the Canadian Armed Forces new tools to spy from the sky. The three 350ER King Airs are intended for Canadian Special Forces or Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

Early 2022 flights over Ottawa appear to be training for these new planes.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations at the Department of National Defence, said the military training flights were planned well in advance.

“This training had nothing to do with monitoring or controlling activities,” he said.

A police drone flies near Parliament Hill on February 20.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

“These recurring training flights were carried out in order to maintain the essential qualifications and the update on the equipment related to the airborne ISR”, said Mr. Le Bouthillier.

“The cancellation of such training would have been costly and would have had a negative impact on the maintenance of required certifications and qualifications, and therefore on the operational readiness of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Last month, when The Globe and Mail first investigated the origins of the circle flights over Ottawa, the Department of National Defense did not immediately acknowledge the plane was working for the military.

It was only after The Globe contacted other major security agencies – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police – that the ministry of Defense said the King Air was part of a military training operation.

Tory MPs nonetheless pressed Mr Trudeau on whether the government had authorized surveillance without legitimate authorization.

During Question Period on Wednesday, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas said: ‘It appears there was military surveillance that was carried out during the protest in Ottawa.’ Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant questioned whether the thefts were proof the government had deployed the military to the truckers’ protests. “Did the government invoke a law to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces in this manner, or was the surveillance conducted without legal authority? she asked.

Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay asked how the government can justify using military resources in this way. “Liberals didn’t put soldiers on our streets, they put them in the air.”

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant speaks in the House of Commons on May 16, 2019. Ms Gallant on Wednesday questioned whether the thefts were evidence the government had deployed the military to the truckers’ protests.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Conservative MP John Brassard told reporters after Question Period that Trudeau insulted his party.

“He dropped an F-bomb. Everyone in the first two rows across from the Prime Minister heard it,” said Brassard, adding that he had raised the issue with the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister invoked one of his father Pierre Trudeau’s most memorable jokes when asked if he had used unparliamentary language.

“What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you move your lips in a certain way?” the current prime minister told reporters as he left the Commons.

Mr Trudeau has accused the Conservatives of spawning conspiracy theories. “I want Canadians to pay very close attention to this trade. What the member opposite has just done comes dangerously close to disinformation and misinformation aimed at stoking fears and conspiracy theories around what happened several months ago.

Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst and associate professor of international relations at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said there was no evidence to suggest the military used a plane. surveillance to spy on protests.

She said she hoped more light could be shed on any surveillance carried out at protests during the announced inquiry into the government’s invocation of the Emergency Measures Act in mid-February.

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Richard V. Johnson