UN peacekeepers not deployed in British Columbia

Social media posts claim a photo of emergency response personnel wearing blue helmets in British Columbia shows that the United Nations' diplomatic security force is mediating between civilians and officials over wildfire evacuation orders. This is false; law enforcement agencies say UN peacekeepers were not in the Canadian province, and that the workers pictured are from local rescue operations.

"There are now reports of UN Blue Helmet troops -- and I have pictures of them -- on the ground," says Chris Saccoccia, also known as Chris Sky, in an August 27, 2023 TikTok post viewed more than 231,000 times.

In the video, Saccoccia -- whom AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation -- claims he received a picture of UN peacekeepers in Scotch Creek, British Columbia. The community on Shuswap Lake in the southeast of the province has recently faced wildfire threats and tensions over evacuation orders.

<span>Screenshot of a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, taken September 1, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, taken September 1, 2023
<span>Screenshot of a post on X taken September 1, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a post on X taken September 1, 2023

The video also appeared on Saccoccia's account on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Other versions spread to Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and Rumble -- including in French and German.

Many posts include photos of workers wearing blue helmets they claim show the UN's peacekeeping force, whose members wear such headgear. The international corps of civilian, police and military personnel mediate globally in countries beset by political, ethnic or diplomatic disputes.

<span>Screenshot of a post on Facebook taken Septemeber 1, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a post on Facebook taken Septemeber 1, 2023

Despite his claims about the UN, Saccoccia said the unit in the photo is Canada Task Force 1 (CTF1). The multi-agency emergency and rescue team in British Columbia assisted in wildfire response near Shuswap Lake in August.

Justin Mulcahy, CTF1's director, said that while CTF1 agents can be deployed for international missions, they are not associated with the UN.

He said the force assessed damage after the Bush Creek East wildfire spread through the area (archived here).

"Canada Task Force 1 was used in that region to conduct rapid damage assessments, which are just quick assessments of structures, whether they've been damaged or total loss," he told AFP on August 30.

Mulcahy said CTF1 receives workers and funding from municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. Members wear blue helmets that resemble those belonging to UN peacekeepers.

<span>Screenshot of Canada Task Force 1's website taken September 1, 2023</span>
Screenshot of Canada Task Force 1's website taken September 1, 2023

James Grandy, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in British Columbia, told AFP that peacekeepers are not present in the province.

AFP contacted the UN for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.

Tensions in the Shuswap area

Posts about the UN's presence in Scotch Creek claim the security forces arrived in response to confrontations over wildfire evacuation orders.

August saw more intense blazes in Western Canada, triggering the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in British Columbia -- including Scotch Creek and other communities around Shuswap Lake.

Grandy said some people stayed behind at their properties, but another group that arrived on the outskirts of the evacuation zone was not allowed through.

"There was a case where people were coming in from outside of the area and so the RCMP had to create roadblocks at certain points -- that were assigned as important in consultation with the wildfire service -- to not allow anybody in," Grandy said.

<span>Map of western Canada showing fire risk, areas burned and active fires as of August 21</span><div><span>Cléa PÉCULIER</span><span>Sabrina BLANCHARD</span><span>AFP</span></div>
Map of western Canada showing fire risk, areas burned and active fires as of August 21

Local media reported those people were trying to bring supplies to property owners who decided to stay. Grandy said that due to the wildfire operation and the fact that the group comprised of non-residents, they were not permitted to enter.

After tense conversations with public safety officials, the crowd eventually turned away peacefully.

Grandy said the operation was a joint effort between RCMP and a highway patrol contractor.

Meanwhile, Mulcahy of CTF1 said his team's damage assessments were aimed at providing information about when residents could return after evacuation. While CTF1 encountered some who had stayed behind, Mulcahy said there were no confrontations.

Since the start of Canada's record-breaking wildfire season, AFP has debunked numerous claims about what caused the blazes -- including unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that the fires were intentionally set to displace civilians.

AFP has also previously fact-checked false and misleading posts about UN planes arriving in Canada to bring migrants and an international security force.

More of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada is available here.