From the Toronto Globe – “They’re coming. Are we ready?”

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2005-09-25 22:14:28

  www.theglobeandmail…. This weekend, Toronto will host some of the UFO community’s more level-headed types, writes ANTHONY REINHART. They believe alien visitors are on the way, and we should be prepared to make contactBy ANTHONY REINHARTSaturday, September 24, 2005 Page M3 On a warm September evening in 1975, while sipping pre-dinner drinks outside with his family, Mike Bird found his truth right here — not “out there,” as they would say later on the X-Files. From his perch on Close Avenue in south Parkdale, Mr. Bird turned his 24-year-old eyes to “a bright, fuzzy ball, just sitting there, shimmering” over Lake Ontario.”I watched it for two hours,” says Mr. Bird, now 54, recalling how he fetched his telescope and trained it southward. “My wife looked at it, my parents looked at it. Before long, I was firmly convinced that we were dealing with something real.”Tomorrow, at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall, Mr. Bird will join hundreds of fellow earthlings who, he hopes, will be similarly convinced — not only that UFOs exist, but that governments know far more about extraterrestrial visitors than they’re letting on.”It’s not about selling T-shirts,” he says of the event. “It’s about putting up the best speakers who can represent the position that we are not alone.”The day-long symposium, dubbed Exopolitics Toronto, is an effort by the UFO community’s more moderate and serious adherents to prod officialdom into opening its own X-files so that citizens of Earth can plan for the day aliens make contact.Their beef about secrecy is an old one, easily dismissed by skeptics inured to supermarket tabloids, sci-fi blockbusters and out-there conspiracy theories. The trouble, Mr. Bird and his colleagues say, is that credible data get overlooked in the process.To them, official disclosure would not only help to silence the skeptics, but also the wackier elements of the UFO community, who only make the issue easier for the rest of us to laugh off and for governments to avoid.”I stopped reading science fiction once I saw that the UFO was real,” says Mr. Bird, the regional head of Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a small but committed international band of volunteer investigators, founded in the United States in the 1960s. “It became science fact that just hasn’t been proven yet.”Soon after his Close Avenue encounter 30 years ago, Mr. Bird heard a radio ad for a night course on UFOs at Castle Frank High School, taught by Henry McKay, founder of MUFON Canada. He signed up, and a year later, he and Mr. McKay rounded up a dozen others, rented a small bus and headed to a MUFON conference in Michigan.There, they heard J. Allen Hynek, the astrophysicist who set out to debunk UFO claims for the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s — only to find that he couldn’t. Dr. Hynek, who coined the term “close encounters of the third kind” before Steven Spielberg made it famous, was among the first scientists to lend credibility to UFO study.Mr. Bird, a computer programmer and recreational hockey player, cannot claim similar credentials. He does, however, claim an abundance of curiosity, fuelled by that first sighting in 1975, and three more since then in the Toronto area.In the early days, Mr. Bird would sit on the roof of his father’s cottage and scan the night sky, but he saw nothing but stars and satellites. Subsequent sightings came during field investigations for MUFON, which he sometimes conducts with other members, but not his wife. (“She’s not enamoured by it,” he admits, “but she doesn’t think I’m a nut.”)The last one happened three years ago just west of the city.”I was standing in a crop formation north of Milton,” Mr. Bird says. “I look up and I see this super-bright light up to the north and west of me.”He watched the big light overtake a smaller one, from a plane, and head east toward Pearson airport.Thoughts that it might have been an unusually bright jetliner disappeared weeks later when he found a similar report on the Seattle-based National UFO Reporting Center’s website. It described a sighting near Kingston, several hundred kilometres to the east, from the same night.”To me, that’s a match,” Mr. Bird says, “but I don’t need a match. I need to get down to the hard work of making this mean something.”That can be a lonely job in Canada, much less Toronto. MUFON counts just 50 members coast to coast, while similar local groups have come and gone.Mr. Bird hosts occasional meetings at an Etobicoke library, which typically attract about 20 of the curious — though few are curious enough to join MUFON. All volunteer investigators must first pass a test on the contents of a 311-page field manual, which sets out strict procedures for evidence-gathering.As for tomorrow’s conference, advance ticket sales were slow this week, but Mr. Bird, hoping for a crowd of at least 1,500, is banking on a lot of walk-in traffic.”We think we’re bringing forth the best people on the planet,” he says of the five speakers on the bill. Most anticipated, perhaps, is the latest addition to that list: Paul Hellyer, a former defence minister in Lester Pearson’s Liberal government, who believes that UFOs exist, and that officials have been too quiet about it.Also on the list are American author and historian Richard Dolan; Italian journalist/researcher Paola Harris; researcher Stanton Friedman of New Brunswick; and Stephen Bassett, Washington’s only registered UFO research lobbyist and a frequent speaker on “exopolitics” — the policies humans might employ in the event of contact with extraterrestrial beings.Like many in the movement, Mr. Bird puts great stock in the hundreds of plausible, if unproven, accounts that MUFON has collected in firsthand interviews, often from sources who are easy to trust: astronauts, military and commercial pilots, police officers.”If a pilot says a UFO hovered off the bow of his plane, it either happened or it didn’t,” Mr. Bird says. “It’s either yes or no, and if we’re not alone, our planet needs to know that so that we know what to do tomorrow.”

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