The Canadian military flew surveillance planes over Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa this February, skirting an official directive that it was not to do so.

A Jan. 27 directive by the Department of National Defence (DND) stated that Canadian Armed Forces equipment and personnel were to avoid the protest and that Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) planes were not to fly in the airspace directly above the demonstrations. 

In an apparent effort to get around the rules, military leaders reportedly used a private defence contractor’s military plane to conduct operations. 

“The amplifications provided by the RCAF through this directive did not apply to these training activities, which were contracted outside of the RCAF,” said National Defence Spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier. 

“(The directive) was issued to reduce the risk of generating a false perception of CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) activities, personnel and presence being associated with the domestic event at the time.”

Soldiers flew on a King Air aircraft which was registered in the US on five different occasions – Jan. 28, Jan. 29, Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and Feb. 11. 

According to Ottawa researcher Steffan Watkins, the plane took a flight path that could indicate that it was surveilling people on the ground. 

Conservative MPs have accused the Liberal government of effectively and illegally spying on Canadians. 

“We know a special forces surveillance flight took place,” said Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay. “We know the government even let the health agency spy on Canadians’ liquor habits during COVID.”

“I have two questions: Who was that reconnaissance platform reporting to when it was gathering intelligence on Canadians, and what special policing authorities were granted to the Canadian Armed Forces at that time?”

Liberal defence minister Anita Anand called Findlay’s assumptions “misguided.”

“I would like to reiterate that the assumptions underlying that question are misguided,” said Anand. ”Again, the Canadian Armed Forces flight was part of a training exercise. The exercise was planned prior to and was unrelated to the presence of the protesters and the convoy. The opposition does not seem to appreciate or like this point, but it is the truth,” 

Since the story broke, DND officials have apologized that the training exercise coincided with the protests. 

“The Canadian Armed Forces regrets the timing of the pre-planned CAF training exercise flight that was unrelated to, but took place at the same time as, the domestic event,” said Le Bouthillier.