Canadian military drill sparks unfounded forced removal theories

Social media users claim a military training exercise in Canada's Ontario province was a cover-up for a federal operation to relocate citizens to "re-education camps." This is false; the posts reference wellness checks that involved voluntary conversations with soldiers about emergency preparedness, according to local municipalities and the Canadian Department of National Defence.

"Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered the Canadian military to track and trace so-called 'conspiracy theorists,'" says a May 10, 2024 article from The People's Voice, which has previously spread misinformation debunked by AFP.

The article and companion video surged across FacebookX, and Rumble as users spread the claim in text and images.

<span>Screenshot of an article from The People's Voice taken May 22, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an article from The People's Voice taken May 22, 2024
<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken May 22, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken May 22, 2024

At the end of April, municipalities in Bruce and Huron counties -- about 120 miles (190 kilometers) northwest of Toronto -- announced the area would be the scene of a military training exercise called Trillium Venture (archived here, here and here).

According to the press releases, soldiers with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) planned to conduct wellness checks "to simulate what would happen if they were asked to check on the well-being of residents during an actual emergency" (archived here).

The announcements prompted online consternation, with one social media user circulating an open letter warning the wellness checks could infringe on residents' privacy. Others have posted videos of soldiers walking through residential streets, which are featured in the People's Voice clip.

But Trillium Venture was not aimed at rounding up citizens. The Canadian Department of National Defence said the May 3-5 drill trained soldiers in natural disaster responses.

"The wellness checks during this training do not involve collection of information, and soldiers do not ask any private health questions," said spokeswoman Andrée-Anne Poulin in a May 14 email.

"This is entirely voluntary and is more a chance for residents to meet the soldiers and for us to deliver the information the county wishes them to have."

Poulin said Trillium Venture practiced a domestic response to natural disasters that would fall to the CAF if provincial or territorial authorities asked for help (archived here).

While the CAF prepares for many different crisis scenarios, including floods and ice storms, she said this drill simulated the response to an extreme heat wave in anticipation of potential wildfires this summer. Since it was a domestic training exercise, Poulin said soldiers were not carrying weapons.

Right to refuse

Brian Hurley, a partner at Liberty Law in Edmonton, Alberta (archived here), said May 21 that when the military or police come to someone's door, the resident has the right to refuse to speak with them unless they have a warrant.

"With the military and the police, you have the same rights as you do with the vacuum cleaner salesman," he said. "You can not answer the door, you can open your door and say, 'Thank you very much, please leave.'"

He said certain emergency evacuation orders could give different governments the authority to forcibly remove people from their homes, but this is not usually the case (archived here) -- and that the military would also not usually be granted this power during a drill such as Trillium Venture.

Hurley added that the last time Canadians were rounded up by the military was during the internment of residents, mostly of Japanese descent, during World War II (archived here). He said such actions would typically require the declaration of emergency measures, which are not in force federally or provincially in Ontario (archived here and here).

The Canadian government has invoked the Emergencies Act and its predecessor, the War Measures Act (archived here and here), four times: World War I and II, the 1970 October Crisis and the 2022 Ottawa trucker convoy (archived here). A federal judge in January ruled the last instance was an overreach.

Canada is also reckoning with the legacy of residential schools, which involved the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families (archived here).

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada here.

May 23, 2024 The direction of Bruce and Huron counties from Toronto was corrected in the third paragraph