The IJF is excited to announce the launch of our newest database, Open By Default. Thanks to the hard work of our team and collaboration from academics and journalists across the country, we’ve created a searchable database of more than 20,000 previously-released government records — many of which have never been made public before. 

We’ve been sifting through thousands of records and have found information about everything from UFO sightings to documents created in the 1940s at the height of the Second World War. 

Here are some odd, fun and thought-provoking records we found. 

  1. Thanks… but no thanks 

All redactions you see in Open By Default documents were done by the government department that fulfilled the request. 

Speaking of redactions, someone asked for internal documents about Wanping Zheng, a former engineer at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) accused of acting on behalf of a Chinese company. This document provided by the CSA may not be quite as helpful as the requester had hoped. In 41 pages, pretty much all the agency revealed were the sections of the Access to Information Act it cited to justify withholding information.

  1. Costly COVID contraventions

Transport Canada documents detail all instances when air passengers and airlines were fined for breaking pandemic rules, and how much they had to pay. Refusing to mask could cost individuals up to $5,000. Airlines who failed to properly test passengers had to pay up to $70,000.

  1. Foreign diplomats in Ottawa behaving badly

Every year, Canadian officials offer an orientation to inform foreign diplomats about local laws. And every year, there are violations. Here’s a list of charges against visiting officials for 2019-20, including some very fast driving. 

  1. “Not a drone, not a jet, not a plane, not a helicopter”

Though it doesn’t keep track of UFO sightings, the CSA still regularly gets reports from the public about potential extraterrestrial activity. Many include photos in their emails, like this one:

Photo submitted to the CSA with a report of a UFO sighting. (Screenshot)

This document provides a roundup of public reports of UFOs to CSA between Sep. 1, 2019, and Mar. 1, 2021.

  1. How many government workers does it take to organize a photo-op? 

Can you guess how many pages of documents were used to work out the logistics for two photos

A photo from the 2018 announcement that the Joyceville and Collins Bay Institute farms would reopen. (Correctional Service of Canada via X)

If you guessed 20, congratulations! 

In 2019, Correctional Services Canada re-opened farms at the Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions, two correctional facilities in Kingston, Ont. A year earlier, they announced the reopening of the farms. At both events, MP Mark Gerretsen, political staffers and staff of the facility posed for a photo with livestock. It took lots of coordination, including (failed) attempts to convince the Privy Council Office to allow animals on the Hill. 

  1. Macaques on a plane? 

No snakes here, at least according to a 2021 list from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The list features all non-domesticated animals imported into Canada that year, including a giraffe, a vulture, a penguin and lots of monkeys. Animals were imported from Lebanon, France and Belgium, but the most common country of origin was the United States.

  1. The historical record 

Open By Default documents don’t just provide insight into the current government’s activities. They can offer a snapshot into history.

Those with an interest in World War II might like to read microfiche scans of “Secret and Confidential Subject Files, Army - Formation of Netherlands Legion in Canada” from 1941.

Or documents about the “Defence of Greenland, 1940-1946.”

Or this one about the “Soviet Threat to North America” from 1961, in which the Canadian embassy wrote home about communism potentially extending into Ecuador. It also includes reports of espionage and other nations of concern. 

  1. “A calamity of national significance”

Canada is a popular filming location for major productions from Mean Girls to Marvel’s Deadpool. But the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island hasn’t been met with open arms. The TV show follows brothers searching for treasure rumoured to be buried on the Nova Scotian island. Some locals aren’t happy about the production and have asked the heritage minister for a complete ban on treasure hunting in the province.

  1. “All talk, no terrorism” 

Even federal agents enjoy a bit of wordplay. A 2021 Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) brief assessing terrorism threats – from groups protesting COVID restrictions to QAnon – found that the “pseudolaw” group Freemen on the Land was “all talk, no terrorism.”