A clump of people stand and point, talking excitedly on the steps of U of T's Convocation Hall, training their eyes on the space above a pale yellow building to the north, where tiny things flit about.
I see little white dots moving erratically against clouds. I can only confirm that they are white dots.
"Anyone want to see a UFO?" says a man to the other people on the steps.
"Have you ever seen a UFO?" asks a guy to my right. Unless I did just now, I haven't. He tells me he witnessed the Phoenix Lights.
While the Con Hall Dots are likely not a landmark event in UFO history, the Phoenix Lights certainly are. On March 13, 1997, a gargantuan, triangular craft was seen, photographed and videotaped by hundreds of citizens.
Something bigger than a breadbox was at cruising altitude over Phoenix for three hours, and got noticed. It's one of the most corroborated sightings ever. Later there were attempts by the military to explain they were flares. This is usual. Picture one of those TV specials where you have an air force colonel insisting, "Not a shred of evidence."
Sometimes evidence - if it so be - comes in little piles. Here at Exopolitics Toronto: A Symposium On UFO Disclosure And Planetary Directions, held at U of T on September 25, nuclear physicist and veteran ufologist Stanton Friedman (the original civilian investigator of the Roswell incident) shows a slide of two differently coloured soil samples.
"This was thrown in just to show you that there is physical evidence," says Fredericton-based Friedman, midway through his lecture. "That's soil, on the left, where the saucer was seen just above the ground, and normal soil from a few feet away."
Nothing can grow in the landing-site dirt, and it won't absorb moisture. The sample is from Missouri's Center for Physical Trace Research, which boasts 3,000 trace collections from 19 countries.
The matter has gone beyond evidence for a number of folks. "Researchers proved the reality of extraterrestrials 100 times over beyond any reasonable doubt," fumes keynote speaker Stephen Bassett in his end-of-day presentation. "It's done, it's proven. Is it necessary to prove it over and over again?"
Bassett, despite a science education, conducts no research and identifies himself as an an "exopolitical activist." His cause is "the 58-year-old imposed truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race and planet Earth." Bassett has an officially registered lobby to petition Congress for open hearings and ran for Congress himself on an exopolitical ticket in 2000.
"Disclosure" is the new power word. It identifies a galvanizing moment of exo-activism. In May 2001, physician Steven Greer, an emergency room director from Virginia and founder of CSETI (The Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, not to be confused with the California-based SETI Institute), trooped into the Washington Press Club with 20-some individuals who identified themselves as insiders from military, government and corporate circles and testified to their involvement in covert UFO activity - recovering crashed saucers, handling reverse-engineered alien tech and meeting ETs themselves.
Greer's Disclosure Project claims to have upwards of 300 such witnesses, whose testimony has been captured on video. Greer, who spoke at OISE in Toronto in May, makes bold claims: ETs visit on a regular basis and are in regular contact with branches of government so secret that even sitting presidents are denied access.
He claims outright that anti-gravity, super-deadly scaler weapons and zero-point energy exist, full-blown, in secret and are being withheld by military, industrial and fossil-fuel interests. "We have not needed fossil fuel, internal combustion engines, gas, coal, nuclear as a power source since before I was born," he says.
The linking of alien tech with social justice grips the imagination of many exo-activists, including symposium co-organizer Victor Viggiani. "Put this in your article: 28,000 African children a day die of malaria. If we can develop a technology because of ET contact, if they were to share the technologies with us, and the government knows about this, the government is letting those children die."
Ted Loder, a Virginia-based scientist and team member of the Disclosure Project and Space Energy Access Systems, even claims he is attempting to reverse engineer alien tech to understand how it functions. "We've come a long way in understanding some of these technologies," he says. So far they have "proof of principle," but nothing ready for rollout.
But Friedman, who's personally sure governments have recovered saucer wreckage, is skeptical about any government's UFO-readiness. "There's a big difference between saying aliens are using more advanced technology than we have and saying the government has developed free energy that would solve all the world's energy problems if they weren't keeping a lid on it." Friedman likens the difficulty of reproducing stuff so advanced to asking Columbus to reverse engineer a nuclear submarine in the 15th century.
While Paul Hellyer's act of disclosure is extraordinary considering he was a former minister of defence, he does not claim first-hand knowledge of extraterrestrial machines, although he recalls UFO reports coming to his desk when he was minister.
An outspoken man even while in office, Hellyer writes and lectures about his economic ideas. His knowledge of UFOs comes mostly second-hand, from books like The Day After Roswell - although, impressively, he had the cachet to look up the military men listed in the book to get the straight goods. He admits such matters didn't cross his mind when he was in office. "I was too busy trying to streamline the armed forces, improve morale and save taxpayers' money."
Aside from dedicating a UFO landing pad in St. Paul, Alberta, during the 67 Centennial, Hellyer's involvement was nil. He did, however, seem genuinely impressed by the testimony of pilots and colonels, and the implications of UFO secrecy. "The time has come to lift the veil of secrecy and let the truth emerge, so that there can be a real and informed debate about the most important problem facing our planet today." This got him a standing ovation.
The day ends with a press conference right after, in room 23. Hellyer doesn't have much more to say about ETs, but his views on the inside workings of government tell a lot about why a veteran politican would buy the notion of an ET cover-up. He recalls Harper's editor Lewis Lapham's theory of two governments, the permanent and the provisional, with the work of those elected always being undone by permanent appointees.
"In effect, permanent government runs things," he says. "We say we live in a democracy, but why do we call it democracy when, in effect, the people who are running it are not elected?"