According to a report released by the Canadian Forces, Canada’s military leaders took advantage of the pandemic to test propaganda techniques similar to those used during the war in Afghanistan on Canadian citizens.
The Ottawa Citizen obtained a copy of the investigation conducted by retired Maj.-Gen. Daniel Gosselin.
The Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) saw in the pandemic a unique opportunity to test these techniques on civil society and devised the plan without the federal government’s consent.
This action used during the pandemic was also not authorized by the national cabinet.
Lt. Gen. Mike Rouleau spearheaded this propaganda plan, and he and other military commanders believed they did not need approval from higher authorities.
The operations were launched in April 2020, although the military has already acknowledged that they are directed at adversaries and are limited in their application “in a domestic concept.”
The CJOC asserted that this information operations plan was necessary to prevent disobedience by the Canadian people in the face of the pandemic and also served to reinforce the government’s message to citizens.
After many of his advisors questioned the ethics and legality of these propaganda operations, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Jon Vance, decided to terminate them and summoned Gosselin to investigate how the plan was carried out without approval.
According to Gosselin’s investigation, Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia, who was serving as CJOC’s chief of staff, stated:
“This is really a learning opportunity for all of us and a chance to start getting information operations into our (CAF-DND) routine.”
Gosselin noted in his report that the military saw the pandemic as “an opportunity to monitor and collect public information in order to enhance awareness for better command decision making” and that the CJOC staff had a dismissive attitude toward the concerns and advice of other military leaders.
The plan was in place for nearly a month as it was initiated on April 8, 2020, and could only be shut down on May 2 of that year following Vance’s order.
Gosselin’s recommendation was to review Canadian Forces operational directives and policies, primarily those affecting national missions.
It is worth noting that information operations techniques are the subject of much debate within the national defense headquarters in Ottawa.
Some intelligence officers want to expand these methods in Canada to control better and shape government information reaching citizens.
Conversely, others are concerned about the scope of these methods and that they could lead to abuses, such as intentionally misleading Canadians or targeting opponents of the government.