|Victor Viggiani is a long time UFO researcher. (Toronto Sun photo: Craig Robertson.)
The truth is out there -- and it may be as close as your own backyard.
Two months ago, on July 14 at 11:45 p.m., Nova Williams was sitting with her dog on the backyard patio of her family's Toronto home when she saw a shooting star flash past her head.
Only it wasn't a shooting star.
Williams said she took a closer look and described what she saw as a glowing object shaped like "a boomerang upside down" zooming east to west over Kingston Rd. at about the same altitude as would fly a small single-engine aircraft.
But unlike a Cessna, this object made no sound. Williams, 35, said it sped up and slowed down in one fluid motion, then stopped suddenly and hovered.
Moments later, it moved south -- without turning -- toward Lake Ontario, then returned and flew out of sight, she said.
"There was no engine sound. It was an eerie quiet," said Williams, who quickly sketched what she saw on a computer paint program. "I thought it was kind of neat. It didn't frighten me because I had seen something like it before."
Every year, in every corner of this country, hundreds of Canadians like Williams are seeing and reporting mysterious objects in the night sky.
Glowing orange orbs. Delta-shaped wings. Silent cigar-shaped craft. Saucers and balls of coloured lights that hover, then move too quickly -- and in too many directions -- to be conventional aircraft, they claim.
Even the fiercest of cynics would be hard-pressed to dismiss some of the UFO reports filed since 2000 with a variety of federal agencies and obtained by the Sun.
They include bizarre sightings by RCMP officers, air traffic controllers and dozens of military and commercial pilots -- even the pilot of an aircraft carrying the prime minister during a flight over Alberta in March 2004.
Officially, Transport Canada and the department of national defence say they have no interest in UFO sightings, which they pass on to Chris Rutkowski, a lone astronomer and volunteer in Winnipeg who receives one or two reports a day.
Hundreds more are reported independently to the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), a Seattle-based organization that receives, records and attempts to corroborate eyewitness accounts. Others are sent to Canadian UFO researcher Brian Vike of HBCC UFO Research, which has a comprehensive website that includes photos, video footage, audio interviews of witnesses and a breakdown of reports by province.
It's a global phenomenon that, according to these reports, has repeatedly touched our own backyards. In the last three months, more than 40 UFOs have been spotted in Ontario, including:
- Whitby, Aug. 12: A bright white shape like a "teardrop" raced up into the sky at 1 a.m.
- Vaughan, July 13: An orange disc, its light fading in and out, hovering over the IKEA store on Hwy. 7.
- St. Catharines, July 5: Five friends camping in a park near the city claim they saw six saucer-like objects at 2 a.m. One of the objects reportedly dropped to within three metres of the ground and "emitted four pulses" of blinding light. The anonymous witness who reported the incident to NUFORC noted, "Three of my four friends made it clear that they never wanted to speak of the event again."
- Toronto, July 3: A V-shaped formation of more than 20 glowing oval objects flying over an apartment building at 919 Dufferin St.
Rutkowski, who describes himself as an "open-minded skeptic," said the majority of UFO sightings he receives can be explained away as satellites, aircraft or helicopters, the international space station, search lights, astronomical anomalies like meteorites and meteorological phenomenon such as ball lightning.
For instance, a "very bright light falling from (the) sky" reported by the pilot of the PM's aircraft and a number of other airliners in March 2004 was likely a meteorite.
But each year, there are a "handful to two dozen" well-documented sightings in Canada that simply can't be explained, Rutkowski said, noting he's never seen a UFO himself.
Science, he added, has a done itself a great disservice by ignoring a phenomenon that thousands of people around the world claim they have witnessed.
"If it's not a physical phenomenon, it's at the very least a social or psychological phenomenon and it should be investigated by science," Rutkowski said.
"It's very good to approach this with an open mind, as long as it's not so open your brain falls out."
Some of the most compelling reports obtained by the Sun were filed by people whose jobs entail sober thought and rational observation skills, such as pilots and police officers:
- The pilot of a Cessna Citation 560 twin-engine executive jet reported a "very large stationary metallic object beside the moon at a very high altitude" to air traffic control in Toronto on April 28, 2003. Several other pilots reported the same object, as the report notes: "(Aircraft) reporting was flying between Buffalo, N.Y., and London, Ont., and saw it for 30 min, and was flying at an altitude of 43,000, said (sic) the object was much higher. The shift supervisor at Toronto airport telephoned this in; he also said that several other (aircraft) reported same UFO."
- The pilot of Air Canada Flight 1185 flying over Saskatchewan in December 2001 reported a UFO to air traffic control in Winnipeg. The report, which was submitted to the Canadian Air Defence Sector, noted: "The (aircraft) pilot observed strobes and flashing lights which he estimated to be (7,600-9,000 metres) above him ... The co-pilot of the (aircraft) flight observed same. Pilot noted that it did not look like a satellite."
- An officer with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary watched for about an hour and a half as two white objects moved north to south over Seal Cove in the Conception Bay area of the province on Aug. 3, 2001.
- On Sept. 8, 2004, the pilot of an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Saskatoon reported a UFO "heading south at high speed -- passed directly overhead."
But, even the best-trained eyes can be fooled.
Cpl. Ed Anderson and then-Const. Jeff Johnston were based at the RCMP Pangnirtung detachment in Nunavut on Jan. 9, 2001, when they were called by a resident to check out a red light hovering in the sky over the remote northern hamlet on Cumberland Sound.
Armed with cameras and binoculars, the officers watched the mysterious object for more than 20 minutes.
In their separate incident reports, the officers described a stationary object that faded in and out "almost as though it was slowly rotating in the sky." After about 10 or 15 minutes, the light lowered until it was hovering above the ice, its light reflected in the snow.
"It appeared to be like a cylinder-type shape. The light then disappeared and was not seen again," Johnston noted in his report. "At this point, writer has no idea what the object was ... It was definitely a strange occurrence and at this time remains unexplained and unidentified."
Reached by the Sun in Moncton, Johnston said he and his partner reported their observations to several agencies, including Norad. They were told the object was likely a satellite that appeared odd because they were positioned so far north.
The officers were satisfied with the explanation several nights later when they saw the same object in the same location.
But for others, like Nova Williams, there is no earthly explanation for what they see in the heavens.
An airshow enthusiast, a former volunteer auxiliary officer with Toronto Police, and until recently, an employee of a provincial professional association, Williams said she is certain that what she saw is not from this world.
The Scarborough woman's July encounter was not her first: In the early 1980s, when she was 12 or 13, she and her father were stargazing in the same backyard when they saw three similar objects flying in a V formation, she said.
Several times throughout that week, Williams said her family saw "tonnes of disc-shaped objects darting in and out of each other without losing speed" in the sky over their house. Her aunt was "terrified" and has refused to speak of it since, she said.
Another unexplained encounter involved a bright beam of light from the sky that filled the family's living room about six years ago while she and her mother were watching late-night TV.
As strange as it all sounds, Williams is not afraid to speak out about her experiences.
But when she recently asked her neighbours if they had seen the same objects, she was met with an awkward silence before they changed the subject.
"I think people are very narrow-minded," she said. "If they start thinking about it, it frightens them. So they don't think about it at all."