When we think of UFOs, we can’t help but think of America: birthplace of the “flying saucer,” home to Roswell, Area 51, and, of course, Hollywood, which is responsible for some of the most iconic UFO-related imagery in the history of cinema. However, anyone who’s ever opened a book on the UFO topic will know that the phenomenon is not restricted to the United States of America, nor can America stake a geographic claim on all of history’s most dramatic UFO events. The UFO phenomenon is truly global in scope. With this in mind, over the next several weeks, I’ll be conducting interviews with leading UFO researchers from countries all around the world in an effort to paint a clearer picture of global UFOlogy today.
Our global UFO trek starts in Canada with Chris Rutkowski, a Canadian science writer and educator with degrees in astronomy and education. Since the mid-1970s, Rutkowski has been studying reports of UFOs and writing about his investigations and research. He has ten published books on UFOs and related issues, including Unnatural History (1993), Abductions and Aliens (1999), A World of UFOs (2008), I Saw It Too! (2009), The Big Book of UFOs (2010), and When They Appeared (2017). He has appeared on numerous radio programs, podcasts and documentary TV series, including Unsolved Mysteries, UFO Hunters, Sightings, Eye2thesky, The Paracast, Discovery’s Close Encounters and A&E’s The Unexplained. He is past president of both the Winnipeg Science Fiction Society and the Winnipeg Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
RG: Who have been the defining figures in Canadian UFOlogy over the past 70 years (for better or for worse), and why?
CR: There are a lot to choose from. In an entry on Canadian ufology for Jerome Clark’s UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 1, published in 1990, I noted such people as Wilbert B. Smith and Omand Solandt, who were diametrically opposed individuals associated with Canada’s version of Project Blue Book, namely Project Magnet and Project Second Storey. Paul Bissky was a lead in the Canadian military UFO investigation team in the 1960s. Peter Millman and Ian Halliday were astronomers with the National Research Council who handled UFO reports, usually by debunking them.
In a section of my entry on Canadian ufologists, I noted: Stanton Friedman, John Magor, John Brent Musgrave, Douglas Curran, Grant Cameron, Larry Fenwick, Harry Tokarz, and Ed Barker.
Historically, there were other notable individuals such as (the great and highly influential) Errol Bruce-Knapp, Jim Moroney, Michael Strainic, Brian Vike, Fern Belzil, and Pat de la Franier. In Quebec, Claude Macduff, Henry McKay, and Francois Bourbeau had been active. In Ontario, Tom Theofanous and Dave Haisell were very active previously, and made very significant contributions to Canadian ufology, but are less active now. Similarly, Barb Campbell from Saskatchewan.
I would today note both John Robert Columbo and David A. Gotlib in Toronto, as well as Gene Duplantier and Bonnie Wheeler. Also, Christian Page, Yann Vadnais, Donald Cyr, Jean Casault, Gilles Milot, and Michelle McKay. And we can’t forget Claude Vorhilon “Rael!” Further east, I would have to note Don Ledger, Noah Morritt, and Chris Styles.
Others who have made significant impacts would be Palmiro Campagna, Michael Persinger (who just passed away), Yurko Bondarchuk, Sue Demeter-St. Clair, Gord Kijek, Martin Jasek, Michel Deschamps, Charles Lamoureaux, Don Dondieri, Paul Kingsbury, Geoff Dittman, Roy Bauer, MJ Banias, and Paul Kimball.
No longer with us: Arthur Bray, Graham Conway, Bill Allan, Guy Westcott. Also of note; Gregory Kanon, Brian Cannon, Barry Thompson, and Paul Hellyer.
RG: What do you consider to be the most compelling Canadian UFO incident on record, and why?
CR: Ah, that’s a good question. The word “compelling” is not one I’d use for most UFO cases. One could argue that the Falcon Lake case of 1967 is the most compelling, because it has elements of everything that a good UFO case should have: detailed witness testimony; physical effects on the environment, including radiation; physiological effects on the witness; a site that has been located and is accessible today; voluminous documentation by government and military investigators; a physical artefact that has been tested by several independent laboratories; recognition by a government that the incident is of historical value; literally hundreds of pages of official documents from two different countries that have been located, retrieved, and made available by researchers, attesting to the incident actually occurring and having been taken seriously by various agencies; queries about the incident in a parliamentary assembly made fully public; plus official statements by police and military investigators that the incident cannot be satisfactorily explained.
Name one other case like that anywhere in the world. Sure, it’s a single-witness case, but it has a lot of probative evidence. Having said that, I’m sure investigators of the Shag Harbour case would say that was the most compelling, and Palmiro Campagna suggests the most compelling is actually Falconbridge. (NB: “Charlie Red Star” and the Carman, Manitoba, flap of 1975-76, currently proclaimed by some as “One of North America’s Biggest UFO Sightings,” isn’t really in the same ballpark.)
RG: What is the Canadian government’s official stance on UFOs? When was the last time it issued a statement on the subject?
CR: Like most large democratic countries and governments, Canada remains officially disinterested in UFOs. This has not changed significantly over the years. An official memo of the Department of National Defence in 1961 stated:
“The Canadian Government is concerned with any report which might affect national security and, undoubtedly, this would be the attitude of the United States Government also. However, to date, UFO reports which have been investigated by various departments of the Canadian Government have not revealed positive evidence of anything which might affect national welfare and which could not be attributed to possibly natural phenomena or mistaken identity.”
In the late 1960s, responsibility for UFO reports was transferred to the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). In 1976, a spokesman for the NRC stated: “Our responsibility was that the NRC would take over the maintenance of a file of UFO reports and conduct any investigations determined by the scientific merit they appeared to have. There was no commitment to do anything specific.”
RG: Does the Canadian Department of National Defence have an official UFO investigations unit?
CR: Short answer: yes. Long answer: sort of. At one time (in the 1960s), there were a few individuals within the Canadian military who seemed to be involved in many UFO investigations. One in particular was Squadron Leader Paul Bissky, whose name appears in a number of case files, including one that suggests he was part of an investigation “team,” greatly predating the X-Files. But into the 1970s, the attitude seemed to have changed, and the Canadian posture mirrored that of the USA. As noted above, the NRC investigated UFO reports, but only because astronomers within the NRC were interested in meteorites, and they looked at UFO reports as largely being due to misidentifications of meteors. The NRC managed to get the RCMP to agree to investigate UFO reports for them with this in mind. When the NRC stopped being interested in meteoritics in the mid-1990s, the “Non-Meteoric Sightings File” was closed, and the RCMP was no longer obligated to investigate and send in reports.
However, UFO reports are still collected by the Department of Defence. Evidence of this is a current policy on “MERINT” reports as defined by the Canadian Coast Guard in its annual directive to mariners. The policy states:
“In order to extend the early warning coverage for the defence of the North American continent a plan is now in existence for the reporting of vital intelligence sightings during peacetime… All Canadian vessels should originate MERINT reports as and when applicable… MERINT reports should be made under the following circumstances… (a) Immediately upon a vital intelligence sighting, except when the vessel is within territorial waters of a country other than Canada, the U.S.A. or Greenland.”
It is important to note that MERINT instructions apply to all ships, both civilian and military. And what kinds of things need to be reported? The Coast Guard is very explicit that “All airborne and waterborne objects which appear to be hostile, suspicious or unidentified should be reported,” including:
“(i) Guided missiles.
(ii) Unidentified flying objects.
(iv) Surface warship positively identified as not Canadian or U.S.
(v)Aircraft or contrails (vapour trails made by high flying aircraft) which appear to be directed against Canada, the U.S., their territories or possessions.”
RG: Has the Canadian government shown more or less transparency on the UFO subject than the US government?
CR: Canada is much more transparent than USA in this regard. Despite the much-ballyhooed demands for “Disclosure” by UFO zealots, official documents about UFOs in Canada have always been available in the National Archives, regularly added to every year. And this isn’t “gradual” or “soft” disclosure; it’s simply standard procedure for yearly reviews of documents as they come up for release. Several Canadian ufologists have been filing AI (the Canadian version of FOIA) requests regularly for decades, receiving documents as part of their research.
RG: Does Canada have a national UFO investigations organisation today, and how many smaller Canadian UFO groups are you aware of?
CR: Nothing national, but there is a Canadian chapter of MUFON which has representatives in several provinces. As for smaller groups, a few provinces have them: UFOBC, Ufology Research, PSICAN, AQU, GARPAN, and perhaps a few others. There were dozens in the 1970s and 1980s. (I could claim that Ufology Research is national, in the sense that we compile the annual national Canadian UFO Survey with data obtained from all groups and organizations across the country.)
RG: What are the most active regions of Canada for UFO sighting reports?
CR: The Canadian UFO Survey has shown that the number of UFO reports is related to population, so that the most UFO reports originate from the largest population centres. Having said that, in 2017, Quebec had about half the total number of UFO reports in the country. Not completely sure why. There are a few places where UFO reports seem slightly high, despite demographics: Surrey, BC; St. Catharines, Ontario; and perhaps even Laval, Quebec.
RG: Have you personally had any UFO sightings?
CR: No, although in 1977, I saw a distant moving red light in the sky and reported it to the NRC. I found my own report on file in the National Archives! (And no, it was never investigated by them. I suspect it was an aircraft.)
RG: How long have you been involved in the UFO subject; roughly how many cases have you personally investigated; and what conclusions, if any, have you drawn about the underlying nature of UFO phenomena?
CR: I started investigating UFO sightings in 1974. I can’t count the number of cases I have investigated since then. Hundreds? Thousands? Even 50 per year for 40 years or so works out to more than 2,000.
I first had an article published about UFOs in 1976. My first book was published in 1989.
My conclusions? In 1991, I stated:
“As with the 1989 Survey of Canadian UFO Reports, the 1990 Survey does not offer any positive proof of the physical reality of UFOs. However, it does show that some phenomenon which is called a UFO is continually being observed by witnesses. The typical UFO sighting is that of two people observing a moving, distant white or red light for a period of over 15 minutes. In most cases, the UFO is likely to be eventually identified as a conventional object such as an astronomical object. However, in a small percentage of cases, some UFOs do not appear to have an easy explanation and they may be given the label of ‘unknown’.”
Whereas in 2018, I noted:
“Statistical studies of UFO report data have often been subject to criticism from both hardcore UFO believers and debunkers. The former insist the small number of high quality unexplained cases does not reflect the true abundance of alien craft in our skies, while the latter note that UFO data is not at all convincing that a real phenomenon exists… The reality is that UFO reports are the foundation of ufology and are the basis for belief in extraterrestrial visitation by ETH adherents. But in short, UFO report data does not prove that aliens are visiting Earth. In fact, if anything, the UFO report data show that most often, the average witness is misidentifying conventional objects or ordinary phenomena… It should be emphasized the classification of Unknown does not imply alien visitation. Each case may still have an explanation following further investigation. And of those that remain unexplained, some may remain unexplained, but still are not incontrovertible proof of extraterrestrial intervention or some mysterious natural phenomenon. In short, witnesses are seeing real things, and the challenge remains to identify the conventional astronomical objects, aircraft, and other terrestrial objects in order to winnow out the truly unexplained UFOs, if any.”
RG: How can Canadian UFOlogy better itself?
CR: More beer. No, wait. Through better cooperation between organizations and individuals. It’s still a challenge every year to compile data on all Canadian UFO sightings when some groups and ufologists are parochial in their approach and don’t freely share information. It’s the same in the USA and other countries, of course. There’s also no agreed-upon standard when it comes to recording and presenting UFO data.
But the good news is that Canadian ufology is ahead of other countries in that we do have access to official UFO reports as well as civilian cases, and that the Canadian UFO Survey remains a good and useful tool for understanding some basic information about UFOs.