Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday February 9, 2023
Why wasn’t the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down over Canada?
Critics say the U.S. and Canada had ample time to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it drifted across North America for a week, although it’s unlikely Canadian jets could have done the job.
“This was an outrageous intrusion,” Conservative defence critic James Bezan told CTVNews.ca. “If we were tracking this from the time it entered Alaskan airspace, the question is, why didn’t Norad take action sooner?”
Two hundred feet tall, manoeuvrable and with a payload of sensors the size of three school buses, the alleged surveillance balloon initially approached North America near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on Jan 28. According to officials, it crossed into Canadian airspace on Jan. 30, travelling above the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan before re-entering the U.S. on Jan 31.
The presence of the balloon was made public on Feb. 1 as it flew above Montana, home to one of three U.S. nuclear missile silo sites. On the afternoon of Feb. 4, an American F-22 fighter jet finally brought it down with an air-to-air Sidewinder missile over the Atlantic Ocean near South Carolina. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wanted it shot down sooner, but was advised to wait until it was above water to minimize potential damage and injuries from debris.
In the U.S., Republican leaders have criticized the Biden administration for not downing the balloon as it traversed remote waters, vast tundra and sparsely-populated wilderness.
“It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Feb. 5 statement.
“What if it had been weaponized?” Bezan, a Manitoba member of Parliament, added. “I think they had an opportunity to take it down over the Pacific… Why wouldn’t we have shot it down there before it even got to any populated regions?”
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Norad commander Gen. Glen D. VanHerck offered his rationale.
“It was my assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America, this is under my Norad hat,” VanHerck, who heads the joint Canada-U.S. air defence group, said. “And therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent.”
Bezan says the government has kept Canadians in the dark about the incident, who are relying instead on information from the U.S.
“I’m disappointed that the minister of defence, Anita Anand, and the prime minister have been both tight-lipped on this,” the opposition lawmaker told CTVNews.ca. “Why didn’t the Government of Canada tell Canadians what was in Canadian airspace, especially when Canadians could see it? Why did it wait until it was in Montana before this became public information?”
Charron from the University of Manitoba also wants to know more about how the incident was handled. (CTV News)