Canadian News Oct 9, 2021 10:26 PM EST

Canadian military saw pandemic as 'unique opportunity' to test propaganda on public

The propaganda plan acknowledged that "information operations and targeting policies and doctrines are aimed at adversaries and have a limited application in a domestic concept."

Canadian military saw pandemic as 'unique opportunity' to test propaganda on public
Adam Dobrer Vancouver
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An "information operations campaign" developed by the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) never received cabinet authorization. Still, military leaders like CJOC head Lt.-Gen Mike Rouleau didn't believe they required approval from higher authorities, according to the Gosselin Report, commissioned to investigate the initiative.

The propaganda plan was developed and put in place in April 2020 though the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) had already acknowledged that "information operations and targeting policies and doctrines are aimed at adversaries and have a limited application in a domestic concept." The campaign called for "shaping" and "exploiting" information to the public to 'head off' civil disobedience and 'bolster' government public health messaging around COVID.

A separate and unrelated initiative overseen by CAF intelligence officers hinged on extracting information from social media accounts in Ontario and compiling data on Black Lives Matter protestors and leaders. They justified the operation under the auspice of "Operation Laser," the CAF mission to assist in long-term care home outbreaks and distribute vaccines in remote communities.

The CJOC initiative, shut down by Gen. Jon Vance amid questions about the legality and ethics behind the operation, brought in Ret. Gen. Gosselin to assess how the CJOC could launch an operation of this size without cabinet approval. The Gosselin investigation determined the plan for such operations was "clearly a mindset that permeates the thinking at many levels of CJOC," with those in command viewing the pandemic as a "unique opportunity" to try out propaganda techniques on an unsuspecting public.

The command saw the military's pandemic response "as an opportunity to monitor and collect public information to enhance awareness for better command decision making," Gosselin determined. That CJOC staff had a "palpable dismissive attitude" toward concerns raised by other military leaders.

Gosselin also pointed out CJOC staff had a "palpable dismissive attitude" toward the advice and concerns raised by other military leaders. He also urged a 'comprehensive review' of all CAF information policies and directives, especially those concerning domestic missions. The revelations come amid an ongoing debate inside national defence headquarters about the scope and use of information operations techniques.

The CAF also spent more than $1 million to train public affairs officers on behaviour modification techniques utilized by Cambridge Analytica, a US data firm implicated in data-mining and collection efforts critical to Donald Trump's improbable presidential election victory in 2016. Some urged an expansion of propaganda techniques domestically to "better control and shape" government information delivered to the public, while others worry about the potential for abuse.

Acting Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Deputy Minister Jody Thomas acknowledged internal military propaganda initiatives got out of control. They said, "errors conducted during domestic operations and training ... eroded public confidence in the institution," noted a June 9 message signed by Eyre and Thomas. "This included conduct of information operations on domestic operations without explicit direction or authority to do so," they said, "as well as the unsanctioned production of reports that appeared to be aimed at monitoring the activities of Canadians."

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