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When a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over Canada, why didn’t we shoot it down?



Amid all the suspicion and intrigue that’s been swirling around the Chinese spy balloon are questions related specifically to the time it was flying in Canadian airspace.

The balloon was first sighted Jan. 28 as it flew over Alaska, according to U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, and it flew ovethe Yukon and B.C.’s Interior before returning to American airspace over Montana.

Some Canadians — including opposition party members and CBC readers — have questioned why this country didn’t act sooner, why we didn’t shoot it down ourselves, and whether Canada’s military was even capable of doing so.

Should Canada have acted when it flew into Canadian airspace?

The short answer, according to military experts, is no.

“To say that, oh, Canada should have shot this balloon down on its own — that’s just silly,” said University of Calgary history professor and military historian David Bercuson.

“That just completely ignores the fact that NORAD exists that we’re part of it and have been part of it for almost 80 years now.”

Trails from an aircraft are shown in the sky, along with a white object.
The remnants of the balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, on Feb. 4. (Submitted by Chad Fish/The Associated Press)

NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, responsible for aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning.

Retired major general Scott Clancy, who at one point served as deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region, says while each country has sovereignty over its airspaces, “the binational command of NORAD is both Canada and the United States. It’s not one or the other.”

He said any decision to act within Canadian airspace would be the purview of the Canadian government, and the NORAD agreement makes NORAD an executor of that decision making.

So in this case, Clancy says as soon as the balloon was identified over Alaska, Canada would have been informed by the commander of NORAD, who would inform “the hierarchies — political and military — of both governments in the United States and Canada simultaneously.”

And the decision as to how to react, he said, would be a “balance between intelligence and operational security and public safety.”

NORAD commander U.S. Gen. Glen VanHerck said there was some action taken when the balloon was over Canada.

“There was some speculation about a second one,” he told reporters during a briefing Monday. “I launched NORAD fighters, Canadian CF-18s, and we were not able to corroborate any additional balloon.”

Why was the balloon allowed to fly in North American airspace for as long as it did?

Both Clancy, the retired NORAD deputy commander, and Bercuson say that once the balloon was deemed not to pose any tactical threat to people on the ground, it actually offered up an opportunity for Canadians and Americans to gather important information.

“Just having the balloon move across the country was an opportunity to watch it and gather our own intelligence about how it was doing — and what it was doing,” Clancy said.

NORAD commander VanHerck confirmed the move was strategic in the same Monday briefing.

“This gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed,” he said.

VanHerck did not elaborate on what they were able to learn, but Clancy says it could have included insight into their uses of technology.

“It would be very interesting to know the kind of emission devices that were sending information back to China from this balloon,” Clancy said. “I think that’s going to be very indicative of some things.”

And, said Clancy, allowing the balloon to continue to drift helped keep China a bit in the dark.

“In the early days, the predominant factor at play was trying to allow this to play out so that the Chinese did not know whether or not NORAD knew of — NORAD being the United States and Canada — knew of the presence of this balloon in Canadian and U.S. airspace,” he said.

Head shot of man wearing a button down shirt and dark sweater
Retired major general Scott Clancy once served as deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region. He says the decision on whether to shoot down the balloon would have been a ‘balance between intelligence and operational security and public safety.’ (Trevor Godinho)

Bercuson agreed, saying China didn’t just want to make sure the North Americans saw the balloon — it wanted to know how they would react to seeing it.

“They don’t just want to take pictures of missile fields in Montana, for example. They want to know how we’re responding. How good is our technology to respond to the existence of this balloon,” he said.

Bercuson says as it has become clear that this was not the first such balloon China has deployed, the Chinese were likely saying to themselves, “well, that clearly they’re not picking this stuff up, so why not keep doing it until they do?”

A map of North America is shown, charting the balloon's trajectory.
A map shows the trajectory of the balloon over North America. The specific duration it was over Canadian airspace is not yet clear. (The Associated Press)

VanHerck did admit in his comments Monday that this was not the first time this kind of surveillance balloon had flown over North America and that such balloons evaded detection by North America’s aging early warning system in the past because of a “domain awareness gap” that has since been closed.

While VanHerck didn’t elaborate on that “gap,” Clancy says it might have been that the radar systems poised to detect threats are set to ignore data that is below a certain airspeed.

“When humans are looking at those screens it is impossible to pick out threats from all the rest of the data without some filters to screen out unwanted contacts,” he clarified in a later email, adding that NORAD may have closed the gap by adding enhanced data processing on top of the existing radar systems in order to pull out the data at these low airspeeds to recognize it as an actual contact.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday said he told the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as soon as possible. On Saturday, the balloon was downed over the Atlantic Ocean.

Was the plan always to shoot it down over water?

U.S. President Joe Biden said that he gave the order to shoot down the balloon on Feb. 1, and it was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.

A big part of the decision of where to do it had to do with the sheer size of the balloon.

VanHerck said the balloon was 200 feet tall — or about 60 metres — with a payload he characterized as “a jetliner type of size” weighing “in excess of a couple thousand pounds” or at least 900 kilograms.

The debris field was expected to be about 1,500 metres by 1,500 metres.

But Clancy said, had the balloon posed an imminent threat, assessments about bringing it down sooner over land would have been made.

Would Canada’s fighter jets have had the capability to shoot the balloon down?

The operating altitude of Canada’s CF-18 Hornet fighter jets is 50,000 feet (15,000 metres), while Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the balloon had been flying at about 60,000 feet (18,000 metres) — potentially out of range for those jets.

Some CBC readers have raised concerns that Canada wouldn’t have been able to take action against it had the balloon been a threat.

Not an issue, according to Bercuson. He says one of the main points of NORAD is that Canadian and U.S. military aircraft need not seek permission every time they need to fly over each other’s territory.

“So once the decision was made that this thing would be shot down,” he said, “if we didn’t have the capability of doing it, the Americans would do it.”

Head shot of a man with glasses
University of Calgary history professor David Bercuson says to suggest Canada should have shot down the balloon itself — or even question whether it could have — ignores Canada’s involvement in NORAD. (Submitted by David Bercuson)

What does this incident say about our overall security?

Opposition parties also wanted to know why Canadians didn’t even find out about the balloon until it had already left Canadian airspace and what’s now being done to prevent and punish Chinese espionage efforts.

“It is high time the government took action to counter Chinese influence and modernize Canada’s defence systems,” Bloc Québécois defence critic Christine Normandin said in a statement in French.

National Defence Department spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said the decision about when to tell Canadians was a joint one.

“While the object was moving, analysis ruled out the possibility the balloon posed an imminent threat and further steps were taken to analyze it in collaboration with the U.S. and NORAD,” she said in an email.

“Through this collaboration, Canada and the U.S. jointly decided to publicize the presence of the balloon at an appropriate time, taking into account operational security.”

Close up shot of a small boat with about 8 people on board, pulling a large white item out of the water.
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover the balloon Feb. 5 from the waters off South Carolina. (U.S. Fleet Forces/U.S. Navy/Reuters)

As for modernizing NORAD, historian Bercuson couldn’t agree more. “Of course we have to upgrade NORAD,” he said, “we’ve known it for a long time.” But he says governments have been reluctant to do so.

“So now we’re going to have to because we know that the Chinese have been doing this, have clearly gotten away with it,” he said.

“So, okay, do we want them patrolling our skies, taking pictures, listening to our signals or tapping into our conversations? Well, I would think we wouldn’t want them to know that.”


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‘Instant action plan’: More than 100 evacuated from nursing home amid flood



As floodwaters poured into a Mississauga long-term care home –submerging much of the ground floor – rescue crews worked to rapidly get residents into inflatable rafts to evacuate the property while others worked on stopping the water from rising further.

The operation that unfolded over the course of 12 hours on Tuesday following torrential rains eventually saw more than 100 residents safely moved out of the nursing home, some by raft and others on foot once the water receded.

Mississauga Fire Captain Dan Herd said the evacuation of the Tyndall Seniors Village, which saw multiple emergency services from across the Greater Toronto Area come together, was on a scale he hadn’t seen before.

“There was water inside the building, the first floor – in between probably three to four feet high on the walls – and some windows were broken, damaged,” Herd said, adding that the parking lot was inundated by water at one point.

“We set up an instant action plan, and we started to move thousands of litres of water at a time … the water rescue team was using their rescue boats to assist the removal of ambulatory patients and occupants.”

The flooding began after incredibly heavy rains on Tuesday caused the nearby Etobicoke Creek to overflow, Herd said.

Once enough floodwater had been pumped out of the home, some residents were able to walk out of the building, he said. Those who were unable to walk were carried down stairs and out of the building by first responders using lifting equipment, Herd said.

“This is my first personal experience of something to this size,” he said of the operation.

None of the residents were injured, said Tom Kukolic, acting deputy chief for Peel Region’s paramedics service.

Once first responders determined that none of the 116 residents needed emergency care, efforts then shifted to a “safe extrication and relocation” operation, Kukolic said, with residents eventually taken to two long-term care homes and two hotels.

“Once the paramedics and firefighters were able to bring the residents out of the home and move them to the triage area, we then had assistance from Peel Wheel-Trans, Toronto TTC Wheel-Trans, and Mississauga Transit,” Kukolic said.

The relocation effort was “a seamless transition” thanks to the collaboration of several emergency response teams, including York Region and Toronto paramedics, he said.

“Extricating people, it’s very difficult. It is very laborious work … however, what we do from a paramedic practice perspective, is ensure that we have enough people to safely move residents,” Kukolic said.

Tuesday’s massive downpour caused chaos across Toronto and its surrounding communities, with flooding shutting down several major routes and terminals and knocking out power to thousands.

Mississauga Fire Chief Deryn Rizzi called the response at the nursing home “a great example” of how multiple agencies across the Greater Toronto Area can work together.

“We are there to work collaboratively together, to address the incident to achieve a common goal, which in this case, it was to evacuate the residents safely,” he said.

For Kukolic, the full-day operation showed how preparation can help first responders deal with large-scale responses triggered by sudden events such as Tuesday’s flooding.

“I was proud to be a member of paramedic services and a first responder,” he said.

“It was really great to see how everybody came together to ensure that our most vulnerable were taken care of.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Alberta law society clears former cabinet minister Tyler Shandro of misconduct



EDMONTON – The Law Society of Alberta has cleared Tyler Shandro of professional misconduct after he confronted a physician at the edge of his driveway four years ago over a social media post, when Shandro was the province’s health minister.

In a decision released Thursday, the law society panel found Shandro not guilty on three citations surrounding his conduct.

Regarding the citation over the driveway dispute, two of the three society panel members said Shandro’s actions that day were as a family man and did not reflect his role as a lawyer. Shandro was not practising law at the time.

“It is clear that Mr. Shandro attended at the home of (Dr. Mukarram Zaidi) as a father and husband, and not principally as the minister of health,” wrote committee members Bud Melnyk and Grant Vogeli.

On that committee member Edith Kloberdanz dissented.

In the report, she said she would find Shandro guilty for his behaviour during the confrontation, saying he didn’t need to visit the doctor’s home uninvited in an emotional state to resolve his concerns.

“The public’s trust and confidence in lawyers is based on the ability of lawyers to manage their behaviour in highly stressful situations and circumstances,” she wrote.

Kloberdanz said the impact on Zaidi and his family “was not given sufficient weight” by the majority, and that she was troubled Zaidi’s children were present for at least some of the incident.

The incident dates back to March 21, 2020. It was a turbulent time. The province had just invalidated its master working agreement with physicians, and COVID-19 was taking hold around the world.

Shandro told the committee that he and his family had been facing serious threats.

The incident began after Zaidi posted on social media a message critical of Shandro while referencing his wife’s company.

That day, Shandro, a Calgary legislature member at the time, went to the Calgary home of Zaidi, asking two boys playing basketball on the driveway to get their father.

Zaidi told the committee that Shandro was crying and “emotionally charged” during a conversation that lasted less than two minutes.

“(It) was a very intimidating experience, seeing the Crown’s representative and a lawyer attending at my house to tell me to delete a post,” Zaidi said, describing Shandro as “his ultimate boss.”

Shandro remembered the incident differently.

The social media post was personal, since it referenced his wife’s business, and the conversation came out of a concern for the safety of his wife, Shandro said, adding he was not yelling or crying.

Shandro testified that Zaidi looked “embarrassed” and asked, “What do I do? Delete the post?”

Shandro said he replied: “You have to decide that for yourself.”

Then-premier Jason Kenney defended his minister at the time, saying it’s understandable that a husband or wife will get passionate when their spouse is being attacked, threatened or defamed.

The committee also looked into Shandro’s decision around that time to phone two other doctors who had been critical of government policy, and to use his government email to respond to a member of the public who had sent his wife’s company a complaint email.

Law society lawyers argued the incidents were examples of inappropriate and intimidating behaviour by Shandro meant to muzzle public dissent.

On those two counts the panel unanimously ruled that while Shandro’s behaviour was at times inappropriate, it did not rise to the level of sanction.

Shandro lost his seat in the legislature in last year’s general election and has returned to practising law. He has been a law society member since 2005.

In January, he was appointed to the board of directors of Covenant Health, a publicly funded provincial health provider.

In an emailed statement to The Canadian Press, Shandro said he was pleased to be exonerated.

“These complaints were the culmination of years of politically fuelled personal attacks on me and my family,” he wrote.

“These complaints were also based on false allegations, and I have maintained the allegations were baseless and frivolous.

“I look forward to continuing to serve my community.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2024.

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Saskatchewan food bank says it’s prepared to reduce hampers by half



MOOSE JAW, SASK. – Jason Moore recently took stock of the inventory at the food bank in Moose Jaw, Sask., and realized nothing would be left in two weeks.

To keep the shelves from going bare, the food bank’s executive director says it’s prepared to cut its hampers in half. That means one hamper per month for clients instead of two, starting in August.

“By still giving out two hampers for the remainder of July, we’ll be bare bones by the end of the month,” Moore said Thursday.

“We get to know our clients, and we know the struggles they’re facing. Not being able to help them is absolutely devastating.”

Moore said in past years, there would be enough food to last into the fall, just in time for the big annual Halloween drive to replenish pantries at the food bank west of Regina.

But this year is not like the last, or the one before, as more and more clients continue to access services.

Moore said the food bank helps about 800 households a month, double from two years ago. Donations have not increased at the same rate, he added.

The spike in demand is due to higher grocery prices, rent increases and other pressures affecting the cost of living, he said.

“It’s a crisis,” Moore said.

“Sadly, our government keeps asking food banks and our communities to carry this load, and yet they offer very little for aid.”

Food banks across the country have said they’re being pushed to the brink due to inflationary pressures.

John Bailey, CEO of Regina’s food bank, said Moose Jaw’s struggles point to a larger trend in Canada of food banks unable to keep up with demand.

He said while the Regina agency has been able to manage the influx, it has still put a strain on operations. The food bank served about 9,000 people five years ago. It expects to help roughly 20,000 this year.

“It’s folks who never expected to be accessing a food bank who now use it on a regular basis. It’s just spiking demand.”

Bailey said addressing underlying issues — with more affordable housing, a living wage and disability supports — is necessary to reduce food bank usage.

Without more of those programs, he said, strain on the food bank will keep growing, though staff will “continue to work tirelessly to meet the needs of our community.”

Moore said he has reached out to Moose Jaw residents and businesses, along with other food banks in the country, to ask for donations so he doesn’t have to cut the hampers.

“I think we are all responsible for feeding the hungry people in our communities,” he said.

“They are our brothers and sisters and our neighbours.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2024.

— By Jeremy Simes in Regina

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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