OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is shooting down suggestions of a link between the movement of a large number of army trucks and armoured vehicles and the COVID-19 crisis, after video of the vehicles spurred questions about a potential military mobilization.
Video of the military vehicles being transported by rail circulated on social media over the weekend, sparking calls to the Department of National Defence over whether the Forces was mobilizing or otherwise preparing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Defence Department says the vehicles were returning from a training exercise that was to be held at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright in Alberta in May. Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre cancelled Exercise Maple Resolve last week due to COVID-19.
In response to the social media posts, the Quebec-based 2nd Canadian Division made its own video using the same footage superimposed with the words "No link with the coronavirus." The message was repeated in French.
The spread of the videos and questions about a potential military mobilization nonetheless sparked concerns within the Defence Department, which has been on heightened alert for false information — deliberate and unintentional — given the current climate with COVID-19.
"The risks and impacts of misinformation during this critical period are real and need close and careful monitoring," department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in a statement.
"While it is normal and expected that the public are, at this time, far more sensitive to the public environment, the viral propagation of inaccurate or decontextualized content could lead to confusion or impact efforts to flatten the curve."
The Canadian military has curbed many of its activities in light of COVID-19. Training exercises and some operations have been suspended or cancelled to protect the force from the respiratory illness and ensure the military is ready to respond should it be called upon.
The frigate HMCS Fredericton has been ordered to cancel a number of port visits and ceremonies during its deployment with a NATO fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, while two other naval vessels are cutting short their drug-interdiction efforts and returning home from the Caribbean.
The military has stopped providing updates on the number of service members who have contracted COVID-19, suggesting the information could be used by adversaries.
Chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance warned in a letter to military personnel last Friday that they needed to "face the reality that the three-week operational pause we are experiencing now may continue."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press