Surveillance Planes Over Ottawa During ‘Freedom Convoy’ Protest Conducted By Canadian Special Forces

DND confirms the plane was in service as part of a training mission but stated the flight had nothing to do with the protests

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Canadian special forces piloted the mysterious plane that flew over Ottawa in late January and February during the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests, this newspaper has confirmed.

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The US-registered King Air plane was in the skies over Ottawa on Jan. 28, Jan. 29, Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and 11, according to data collected by Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa researcher who monitors the movements of ships and aircraft.

For example, on Feb. 10, the plane flew circular patterns over Ottawa before disappearing from publicly available aircraft tracking systems, Watkins said.

The flights coincided with large-scale protests being staged in downtown Ottawa as part of the “Freedom Convoy.”

Protesters in Ottawa demanded that the government remove rules designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But other protesters also called for the overthrow of the Canadian government.

National Defense spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier acknowledged that the plane was in use by Canadian special forces on Feb. 10 as part of a training mission. But he stated that the flight had nothing to do with the protests.

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No information was available from the National Defense as to who was operating the plane on the other dates, but military sources said those flights also involved Canadian special forces.

Canadian special forces are preparing to receive their own King Air aircraft equipped with surveillance equipment and have been providing training leading up to the delivery of those aircraft.

Those planes, the first of which will be delivered this summer, will give the Canadian military the ability to collect data for missions overseas and at home. The modified small passenger aircraft are equipped with surveillance equipment that enables the interception of cell phone calls, radio broadcasts and other communications. Electro-optical sensors would also allow crews aboard the plane to monitor the movements of people and vehicles on the ground, the Canadian military has noted. Canadian special forces had access to similar aircraft in Afghanistan to track and target insurgents.

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Le Bouthillier said the training of the special forces was already planned before the protests in Ottawa and it would be a waste of money to cancel the flight.

Watkins claimed the plane could have flown anywhere in the Ottawa area if the situation required regular training. But instead, the plane was engaged in specific flight patterns, he noted.

“I believe their precise circular tracks over Ottawa suggest some form of electronic surveillance, not just digital electro-optical images or video,” Watkins added in a separate report on the flights.

The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing Watkins’ data, first reported the Feb. 10 flight in an article last month. At the time, the National Defense acknowledged that the aircraft was doing military training, but did not disclose that it was operated by Canadian special forces.

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The new surveillance aircraft will be stationed at CFB Trenton, Ont.

Canada paid the US government $188 million for the plane. The total project will cost taxpayers an estimated $247 million.

The US military has similar surveillance aircraft.

A maintenance contract for the new aircraft was awarded to a team consisting of General Dynamics Mission Systems-Canada of Ottawa and Voyageur Aviation Corporation of North Bay, Ont.

Canadian special forces have been providing other training to prepare for the arrival of new surveillance aircraft. In October, members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command went to the US to work with that country’s special forces to develop tactics and procedures for use with the aircraft.

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In 2019, US special forces personnel in Ottawa and Petawawa were undergoing similar training. In mid-November of that year, members of 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, both based in Petawawa, conducted an exercise supported by one of the US aircraft. The US plane was operating from the Ottawa airport, and flights were taking place between Petawawa and Mansfield-et-Pontefract, Que., according to Canadian special forces.

The surveillance equipment on board the new Canadian military aircraft is still subject to strict US restrictions. Canadian military and aerospace personnel are not allowed to work on any part of the equipment because they contain sensitive US-made systems that can only be operated by US citizens. Instead, the equipment will have to be sent to the US for maintenance or US government personnel will have to travel to Canada to work on the planes, Canadian officials said.

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