Tuesday, November 30, 2021
The Case of the Missing Telegram
One official document.
That’s all I was looking for. Probably just one page, if that.
In my research into official documents regarding the subject of UFOs, I came across two particular mentions of them by the Prime Minister of Canada in 1966.
That in itself was fairly significant, as any head of state publicly raising the subject of UFOs was (and is) quite unusual to say the least. Of more significance is that these circumstances were not in response to questions from the media during a press conference, or in the context of banter on a network TV show.
These were during relatively staid and controlled government discussions among debates about issues such as diplomatic missions, farm policy and military concerns.
The first instance under consideration was on April 5, 1966. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was in a meeting with ministers and members of Parliament in his cabinet, discussing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, followed shortly thereafter by a proposal for the Health Resources Fund, which was to provide critical federal support in building hospital infrastructure.
But in between those two topics under discussion was “Unidentified Flying Objects.” This was not just a mention of UFOs in a joking way or a mention of shooting stars mistaken for UFOs. This was an actual topic for discussion.
The brief reference in the Minutes of Cabinet that day read:
The Prime Minister said that, in view of the interest being shown in Parliament and the press concerning reports of unidentified flying objects, he would ask the Minister or Ministers responsible to provide him with reports on what had been done in recent years in connection with such reports.
The Cabinet noted that the Prime Minister would seek information from the responsible Ministers concerning actions taken by the government in recent years as a result of reports of unidentified flying objects.
That was it.
A few things to note: within Pearson’s Cabinet, the Minister of Defence at that time was none other than Paul Hellyer, who in much later years claimed inside knowledge that aliens were visiting Earth on a regular basis. But Hellyer also said that during his time in office, he was not all that interested in UFOs.
Hellyer admits that when he was defence minister, he never got any briefings on UFOs from the military. He says he got reports of sightings, and that some of them could not be explained.
And at the Citizens’ Hearings on Disclosure in 2013, Hellyer said:
Although as Minister of National Defence I had sighting reports of UFOs, I was too busy to be concerned about them because I was trying to unify the Army, Navy and Air Force into a single Canadian Defence Force.
So while he was not that interested in UFOs, it does seem that he was asked by the Prime Minister to provide reports on what was being done about UFOs by the Royal Canadian Air Force and National Defence. It was likely he did therefore get briefings on UFOs from the military.
Anyway, that was an interesting entry in the minutes of the Liberal Cabinet of 1966.
What was even more interesting, however, was what happened the next day, April 6, 1966.
The Hansard of the Canadian House of Commons recorded that during Question Period, no less a political strategist than the famous Tommy Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, stood up and asked about an issue making the national news at that time: UFOs.
Mr. Speaker, may I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of widespread concern over press reports regarding unidentified flying objects, and in order that these reports may not lead to unfounded speculation, I want to ask the Prime Minister if this matter is being investigated by any department of his government. If so, may I ask what department has been assigned this responsibility?
Douglas was referring to a media frenzy that was taking place at that time in southern Ontario regarding the case of 13-year-old Charles Cozens. On March 29, 1966, at 9:15 pm, he claimed to have seen two luminous oval objects about eight feet in diameter descend and land, making a buzzing sound. He said the objects had a row of multicolored lights around their rims that were “flickering like a computer.”
Cozens bravely got closer and even touched the nearest UFO, which he said felt hard and smooth like metal. He noticed an antenna of some kind sticking out from the object, and touched it as well, but there was a bright flash and he received an electrical shock. Frightened, he ran home, where his parents confirmed that he had a three-inch burn on his hand. Two days later, it had not healed well, so they took him to a hospital where he was treated for the burn.
This case was part of a very significant UFO flap that flared through the region that month. According to one UFO historian, “It was by far the most intensive and widely reported UFO ‘flap’ ever recorded in Canada.” No wonder it was discussed in the Canadian Parliament!
In fact, on April 4, 1966, a few days before Tommy Douglas addressed the Prime Minister, a different politician, New Democratic Party member William Dean Howe, had asked a question in open session about Cozens, since the case had occurred in his own riding of Hamilton.
Mr. Speaker, I have a question I should like to direct to the Minister of Transport. In view of the increased sightings of unidentified flying objects which are now getting past the point of being funny – a young citizen in my riding is nursing a burn on his hand after touching the antenna of one of these objects, and there are dozens of other reports in southern Ontario – can the minister say whether his department is doing anything about investigating these reports; and would he be prepared to set up a special committee for this purpose in order to satisfy public curiosity?
This was a very significant development, as a Canadian politician was asking the government about the status of UFO investigations, and was taking the subject very seriously.
(Of course, despite noting the topic was “past the point of being funny,” a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament, Gordon Fairweather, couldn’t resist a snide remark: “Ralph Cowan should be the chairman.” This was because Cowan, a Liberal Party member, had a reputation for being a “renegade” and often voted against his own party on bills before the House. He was the subject of ridicule and was even considered a “windmill tilter.”)
Unfortunately, Howe’s questions were never addressed until April 21, 1966, when then Associate Minister for National Defence, Leo Cadieux, stated that there was no such investigation underway but that he would initiate one.
I do not personally think there is a coordinated effort being made now, but I believe several departments of government are interested in the subject matter referred to by the honourable member.
This in itself was interesting, because the Minister for Defence at the time was Paul Hellyer, who chose to have his subordinate address the issue instead of himself.
But back to Tommy Douglas’ question of Prime Minister Pearson regarding the flurry of UFO reports in Ontario. In response, Pearson replied:
Mr. Speaker, I am aware of these reports. Indeed, I had a telegram, a few hours ago concerning another report from western Canada. These matters are being investigated by the Department of National Defence.
So on April 6, 1966, the Prime Minister of Canada said that National Defence was investigating UFO reports, but two weeks later, the public was told that there were no investigations underway but there would be soon. Which was correct?
Reading all this, my curiosity was piqued. What was in the telegram that Pearson said he had received? Why was the Prime Minister sent a telegram about a UFO report if there was no investigation already? Who was keeping the head of state informed on UFO sightings in the country? How often was he sent this information?
I decided that taking a look at this telegram could yield some insight into what the government was doing about UFOs at that time. I sent off an Access to Information request (the Canadian equivalent of the FOIA request) for this one specific document.
While I waited for the response to my request, I dug deeper into my files of historical Canadian UFO reports. Since 1989, I had been coordinating the annual Canadian UFO Survey, taking a “snapshot” of all UFO sightings reported in the country during the year. But in addition to keeping track of current cases, I had been developing a parallel database of historical Canadian UFO cases to better understand the characteristics of the UFO phenomenon over the years.
It turns out that 1966 was a pretty good year for UFOs in Canada and elsewhere. It marked the beginning of the 1966-67 UFO wave that affected North America, described by some as “the Mother of All UFO Waves.”
In Canada, noted sightings included the aforementioned Cozens case, and that same night of March 29, 1966, at 11:15 pm in London, Ontario, a bright disc-shaped object with a dome was seen hovering above Westminster Hospital for five minutes.
But those were in eastern Canada, not the west. My examination of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) UFO files showed there were five separate sighting reports on April 4-5, 1966, all around Montreal – again not the west.
However, there was one single report from western Canada, on April 6, 1966, from Comox, British Columbia. The trouble is that it could not have been the subject of a telegram to Pearson that same day, as the sighting had occurred at 9:05 pm Pacific Time, or after midnight on April 7, 1966!
Which case had been noted in the telegram, then?
When I received the response to my ATI request after three months of waiting, I was told that the telegram could not be found. The archivists had searched through the Lester B. Pearson fonds, including the general Prime Minister’s office correspondence, numbered subject files, secret (!) subject files, diaries and personal papers, and files of the Privy Council Office. They also looked in the House of Commons fonds, including files on Debates, Proceedings, and Sessional Records.
Further, they looked in the Department of National Defence fonds, including the Central registry files of National Defence Headquarters and the files of the Canadian North American Air Defence Region Headquarters.
Finally, they looked in the NRC files, and an archivist noted: “I could not identify a sighting report in Western Canada that would have occurred in the few days before April 6th, 1966.”
No telegram sent to the Prime Minister about UFOs in Western Canada could be found in any file. Why not?
Well, there are several possible explanations.
· The Prime Minister could have said Western Canada, but meant Eastern Canada.
· The Prime Minister could have been using hyperbole, simply boasting that he was on top of the situation and there was no such telegram. (If so, why be so specific?)
· It was not a telegram, but a memo of some kind.
· The telegram was classified higher than Secret.
However, there was no telegram about a UFO sighting in western Canada on or around April 6, 1966.
Yet there could have been such a telegram. The day before in Cabinet, as noted, Pearson said that he was going to ask the Minister of Defence “to provide him with reports” on UFOs. It makes sense, therefore, that a day later the Minister of Defence would have given Pearson something about the current UFO situation at that time. And if there had been a UFO case around that time, it could have been the subject of that missive. Was it the missing telegram?
Further, according to Pearson’s comment in the House of Commons, the Department of National Defence was investigating UFO reports in 1966. This is remarkable, because research by journalist Daniel Otis found that in 2021, “Canada’s military says it does not typically concern itself with UFO reports, unless they represent emergencies or ‘credible threats.’” Further, a later paper noted that credible UFO reports routinely get ignored by the Canadian military.
So what exactly does Canada’s Department of National Defence do with UFO reports? Did it ever investigate them in any detail?
What did Lester B. Pearson know?
I suppose a follow-up question would be: what does the current Prime Minister know?