Crash of the Snowbird

Despite broad concerns about the safety of the Snowbird program, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan proclaims that he is eager to continue it. This is a time to draw warranted conclusions about the nature of Canada’s integration into the U.S. war machine | TONY SEED

On May 17, a Royal Canadian Air Force Tutor jet crashed in a residential area near Kamloops, BC. It was part of a cross-country public relations aerial show of the Royal Canadian Air Force demonstration squadron, known as the Snowbirds. Code named Operation Inspiration, the tour began in Nova Scotia on May 2, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The tour was unleashed immediately in the wake of Operation America Strong of the USAF Thunderbirds that began on April 19 over the state of Colorado, headquarters of NORAD.[1]

The crash took the life of a young public relations officer, Capt. Jennifer Casey, with the Canadian Armed Forces and NORAD, while pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall survived after ejecting safely. Fortunately no-one in the residential area was injured. The rest of the tour was cancelled.

On May 24, the RCAF is staging a highly-publicized public memorial procession attended by the governor-general of Canada and the minister of defence through the streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia, her home province. No such public tributes, photo montages, biographies nor hymns have been organized or published for the fifty elderly seniors who have died of COVID-19 at Northwood Manor, the for-profit long-term care residence located in the same city. The hierarchy of victims is double standards and unconscionable.

The nine-plane tour organized by the Department of National Defence was to be a “mood-making” distraction. On April 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared: “As we watch the Snowbirds fly over our homes, let’s remember that we are all in this together.” At a time when the entire country has turned into a wake for the victims of the virus, the tour was enthusiastically pushed by the monopoly media. It featured live in-plane video on CBC-TV when it began over Nova Scotia on May 2. But, according to the Department of National Defence and contrary to what the Prime Minister said, the Snowbirds are primarily an “important public relations and recruiting tool” – as well as for training pilots for CF-18s war planes.

On April 22, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Operation America Strong, a program of air shows featuring the USAF Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels crossing the United States. “What we’re doing is we’re paying tribute to our front-line health care workers confronting COVID. And it’s really a signal to all Americans to remain vigilant during the outbreak. This is a tribute to them, to our warriors. Because they are equal warriors to those incredible pilots and all of the fighters that we have for the more traditional fights that we win and we win.” 

In parallel, U.S. and Canadian fighter jets under the command of NORAD conducted a war exercise over Greater Toronto, a centre of the virus, on April 27.

On April 29 Canadian Press acknowledged “Some Canadians took to social media on Wednesday to ask whether the flyovers are necessary, given many people are continuing to struggle and die from COVID-19. That echoed criticisms of the U.S. military’s decision to deploy its Blue Angels and Thunderbirds teams.”

NORAD is under Northern Command of the Pentagon, part of U.S. Homeland Security. To give a sense of how sensitive the deployment of U.S. military forces is, even though they are allegedly operating under “bi-national control,” NORAD still found it necessary to go out of its way to assure the public that it was independent of any Canadian program. “This NORAD training event is not related in any way to the Government of Canada’s response to COVID-19,” it announced in a press release, encouraging residents to look up in awe and watch the fighter jets in action.

Fighter jet over Toronto on April 27 | NORAD

NORAD said the U.S. fighters were working with the Canadian Air Defence Sector at 22 Wing North Bay, ON, and civilian air traffic control in the Toronto area to “practice response procedures in high-density airspace.” It was conducted under Operation Noble Eagle, an annual set of exercises which place emphasis on the surveillance and control of airspace over Canada and the United States, and ran 10:00 am to 11:30 am. “By ensuring the airspace was clear, NORAD was able to conduct training in what is normally high-density airspace.”

Why this was so, why during this period, or why at high noon over the largest city in Canada is not explained.[2]

The CF-18 Hornets departed 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec and flew to Toronto. NAV CANADA controllers at Toronto Air Control Centre cleared the way for the fighter jets in a process that involves separating all other aircraft from the Restricted Operating Area. “This area is pre-determined airspace that allows NORAD aircraft to conduct military missions such as air-to-air refuelling, surveillance, and training scenarios, without interference.”

The exercise was one of a little-publicized series. On April 23, NORAD conducted “a bi-national air defence exercise near the U.S. and Canadian border to reinforce interoperability and maintain our rapid reaction capabilities amid the #COVID response.” The border area was not revealed.

The exercise followed loud Canadian government assertions by deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland on March 26 of sovereignty and objections to the stationing of U.S. troops along the border proposed by Trump. “What we have said is, ‘We really do not believe at all that there would be a public health justification for you to take this action.’“ And “We do not take orders from anyone,” she declared.

Such breast-beating had no real meaning except to serve as a cover for ongoing trans-border military exercises. The restrictions for entry into Canada via land or air exempted “a member of the Canadian Forces or a visiting force, as defined in the Visiting Forces Act, and the immediate family members of that member.” As deputy prime minister, Freeland would have been well aware of the permission to U.S. forces to cross the border.

At the same time as Freeland was speaking, the U.S. 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was exercising with the CAF – joined by 12 divers from Belgium, Finland, and France – conducting Op 20 in Resolute Bay and Rankin Inlet from February 24 to March 27 to “work together to enhance specialized arctic skill-sets in the High Arctic.”

On May 13, CF-18 Hornet fighters and a CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueller “conducted a patrol in Canada’s north,” without NORAD again revealing the location or rationale let alone any “public health justification.”

Trump also announced that he is planning to hold an air show similar to those conducted in April, on July 4. The event he planned last year featured a military display that cost $2.5 million.

Some 64,000 troops have been deployed in the U.S.

The extensive range of deployments of the military during a public health crisis, of which the airshows by the Snowbirds were an integral part, includes repeated use of the “at war” metaphor by Trudeau and Trump, in which military personnel are deliberately equated with health care professionals as “heroes” and “warriors.”

In this regard, the military is included as a lead agency by the state in the public health crisis in both the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S. some 64,000 federal and National Guard troops have been deployed. In the Canadian Operation Laser, troops have been deployed into seniors’ homes – some 1,700 members of the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed in around 30 long-term care homes, 25 in Quebec and five in Ontario, up from the original 1,400 – and Indigenous communities. Furthermore, some 2,000 armed forces personnel are deployed in 20 overseas military missions while Canada continued to participate in provocative NATO military exercises in Europe and the Mediterranean. The disastrous crash of the Sikorsky Cyclone helicopter from the HMCS Fredericton in the Ionian Sea on April 28 and the spread of the coronavirus in the armed forces has passed relatively unreported, as has the decision to deploy Canadian warships to participate in the RIMPAC war games to be held around Hawaii and in the Pacific this coming August, the largest naval war exercise in the world.

The propaganda around Operation Inspiration is aimed at the ranks of the military as much as the public, as is the pledge for an investigation of the crash of the 57-year old aircraft used by the Snowbirds. Concerns about the safety of armed forces personnel from the coronavirus have been mounting, especially in the navy where the legitimate and just demand to bring the troops home has now found expression.[3] Seven personnel have needlessly died in a two-week period. Another soldier, Patrick Labrie, died last June 17 in Bulgaria during a U.S. parachute drop in the U.S. Army-directed NATO Exercise Swift Response. Three others – one Canadian and two U.S. soldiers – were injured. At that time too an inquiry by the Canadian Military Police was promised. The culture of secrecy is such that both the Pentagon and then Canada’s Department of National Defence in lock step instituted a draconian lock down on the release of statistics of infections in the ranks for “operational reasons”. This is coupled with an ideological offensive directed at both armed forces personnel and the public that they are maintaining the “balance between health and safety and security” as war preparations and insecurity for the people of the world are accelerated. The premise underlying all the calls for the complete integration of Canada’s armed forces into the U.S. war machine is that security means “securing” the North American “Homeland” as “free and prosperous” – that is, against any threat to the rule of the oligopolies under the sway of the U.S. imperialists. It is completely devoid of a modern and human-centred concept of security.

This is very dangerous. The statements of President Trump about using the military to distribute vaccines suggests the possible enactment of Martial Law in the case of the coronavirus. Martial Law could also be established, using the pretext of the outbreak of COVID-19 in China and other foreign countries and its continuing potential impacts on the U.S. during the U.S. election. In other words, the military rather than the country’s civilian health authorities would be put in charge, which is in part already underway. Notably, the Trudeau government in March had been reviewing the powers contained in the Emergencies Act, legislation that permits the unfettered use of military and police powers, in the name of protecting the public from the pandemic.

Despite broad concerns about the safety of the Snowbird program, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan proclaims that he is eager to continue it.[4]

This is a time to draw warranted conclusions about the nature of Canada’s integration into the U.S. war machine. The military alliance NORAD is always described as being responsible for the defence of North America but, like NATO, it is an aggressive military alliance.

Notes

1.On February 1,U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper signed orders directing Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to execute nationwide pandemic plans. Secretly, he signed Warning Orders (the WARNORD as it is called) alerting NORTHCOM and a host of east coast units to “prepare to deploy” in support of potential extraordinary missions. (William M. Arkin, “Inside The Military’s Top Secret Plans If Coronavirus Cripples the Government,” Newsweek, March 3, 2020.)

Until recently, we heard that NORAD is the “strongest bi-national military organization in the world” (and not only military). The NORAD website openly preens that it defends “the continental United States” and “the homeland as its sacred mission.” NORAD defines our country as “the Canadian region.” NORAD specifically comes under NORTHCOM, part of U.S. Homeland Security; its website boasts that it is the “lead” in the U.S. deployment of 19,000 troops along with 45,000 National Guards during the pandemic. Every state, three territories and Washington D.C. have activated Army and Air National Guard personnel. By the U.S. Constitution, all U.S. military commanders are subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. President. In fact, this means that through the NORAD treaty it is Donald Trump who is the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces – the man whom the media claim the Trudeau policy is different from, or even directed against!

For an in-depth history, see “62nd anniversary of NORAD – The Demand to Dismantle NORAD Is More Urgent than Ever,” TML Weekly, Supplement, June 2, 2018.

2. Noble Eagle was launched following 9/11. In a departure from military tradition, the perception managers took over the naming of the war. Military code names were originally chosen for reasons of security. In current U.S. warfare, however, military code names have become “part of the marketing.” Along with Operation Noble Eagle there was Operation Valiant Strike, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Uphold Democracy, Operation Iraqi Freedom and, now, Operation Reassurance, Operation America Strong, Operation Laser and Operation Inspiration.

3. Referring to the case of the USS Roosevelt, where some 1,000 sailors tested positive, Scott Taylor, editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps, wrote on April 22, “There is a lesson the Royal Canadian Navy can learn from this incident, and that is that since we are not at war and the virus is real, the safety of our sailors must take priority over operational duties.”

“Make personnel safety during coronavirus crisis the top priority,” Hill Times, April 22, 2020.

4. Prior to the latest crash, seven pilots and one passenger had been killed and several aircraft had been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history. As long ago as 2003, a Department of National Defence study warned that “With each passing year, the technical, safety and financial risk associated with extending the Tutor into its fifth decade and beyond, will escalate. These risks are significant.” Cited by Michael Byers, “Snowbirds – grounded,” National Post, May 12, 2014. 

UPDATE – UNREPORTED IN CANADA

On May 17, the very same day as the fatal crash of the Snowbird, the USAF Thunderbirds abruptly cancelled the rest of Operation Strong America after a near accident over Los Angeles County, California. You can read about it here

The Drive reported “The flyovers were somewhat controversial from the start. The perception that the government was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for each military flyover sortie while first responders struggled to obtain personal protection equipment, laid-off Americans flocked to food banks for sustenance, and small businesses struggled to obtain government loads was hard to overcome in some cases. Videos of harsh criticism of the flights have gone viral, most notably one by a doctor who lambasted the aerial displays:”

This article was originally published by TML Weekly, May 24, 2020 and has been revised and update.

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