Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an object flying at high-altitude over the Yukon was shot down on his orders on Saturday, even as military officials remained mum on what the object was or where it came from.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command first confirmed the object’s presence over northern Canada in a statement late Saturday afternoon, saying military aircraft had been scrambled to intercept it.
A short time later, Trudeau announced on Twitter that it had been taken down by an American fighter jet.
“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” he wrote. “(NORAD) shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and U.S. aircraft were scrambled, and a U.S. F-22 successfully fired at the object.”
Trudeau added that he had been in touch with U.S. President Joe Biden, and the Canadian Armed Forces was in the process of recovering and analyzing the wreckage.
Defence Minister Anita Anand was expected to hold a news conference and take questions on Saturday evening.
The Pentagon said the object was first detected flying over Alaska late Friday evening, at which point American fighter jets were scrambled.
“Two F-22 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska monitored the object over U.S. airspace with the assistance of Alaska Air National Guard refueling aircraft, tracking it closely and taking time to characterize the nature of the object,” Pentagon spokesman Brig.-Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
“Monitoring continued today as the object crossed into Canadian airspace, with Canadian CF-18 and CP-140 aircraft joining the formation to further assess the object.”
Ryder added that Biden had authorized U.S. military aircraft to work with Canadian counterparts following a conversation with Trudeau, and that an F-22 shot it down.
“As Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations to help our countries learn more about the object, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Ryder said.
In a statement first announcing the object’s presence over northern Canada, NORAD spokesman Maj. Olivier Gallant said that while the military had identified what it was, it would not reveal any details.
“We cannot discuss specifics related to these activities at this time,” he said.
The exact location of the object was also unclear, though Nav Canada issued an advisory in the afternoon for non-military flights to avoid coming within 100 kilometres of the Mayo Airport.
Mayo is located about 400 kilometres north of the territorial capital of Whitehorse and 230 kilometres east of Dawson City.
The object is the third known to have violated North American airspace in the past two weeks, but the first whose presence has been revealed while it was flying over Canada.
A suspected Chinese spy balloon had re-entered the U.S. after flying over Alaska and parts of western Canada two weeks ago before it was publicly identified on Feb. 1. The balloon was shot down off the coast of North Carolina on Feb. 5.
The federal Liberal government has come under fire from opposition parties and others for not providing more information about the Chinese balloon’s time over Canada.
Members of the House of Commons’ defence committee voted Friday to hold hearings on the issue, which will allow opportunities to hear from Anand and military officials.
A second object was shot down after flying into Alaskan airspace on Friday. U.S. officials have not provided any details on what it was, except to say that it was different than the Chinese balloon.
The object was downed because it reportedly posed a threat to the safety of civilian flights rather than due to any knowledge that it was engaged in surveillance.
But the twin incidents in such close succession reflect heightened concerns over China’s surveillance program and public pressure on Biden to take a tough stand against it.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press