Gilles Milot says 2015 was an especially busy year, and the numbers back him up.
As perhaps the most prominent UFOlogist in Quebec, Milot is responsible for collating and submitting UFO sighting data to the Winnipeg-based UFOlogy Research's annual Canadian UFO Survey. Their 2015 report revealed that last year had the second-most UFO sightings in the past 30 years.
With 1,267 reported across the country, and almost a third of those coming from Quebec, only 2012—the year of the Mayan doomsday calendar, remember that?—had more unexplained encounters over the last three decades.
As the head of the Laval-based Association Québécoise d'Ufologie, it was his job to evaluate and, if necessary, coordinate the investigations of UFO sightings across the province. Safe to say, Milot had his hands full.
He says he was personally involved in about 20 on-site investigations last year, out of close to 100 province-wide—about a quarter of all reported sightings in Quebec—deemed worth further follow-up.
"About three-quarters of the calls we get involve lights in the sky," he told VICE. Of those, about half can be written off as either explainable or coming from an unreliable witness. He says there isn't much point in digging deeper into lights-in-the-sky sightings due to lack of physical evidence.
But he says he has seen stuff that can make your hairs stand on end, and defy scientific explanation. He's heard about things like close encounters of the third kind, of strange animal behaviour, of crop-circle-like traces of burned or discoloured grass and more shit for M Night Shyamalan to abuse on film. (And no, he wasn't just swept up in all the hype surrounding the X-Files reboot.)
When asked why Quebec took the lead in sightings last year, Milot, rather humbly, takes the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view).
He says one event received mention in the mainstream press, and his group's name was mentioned. After the story appeared, he said calls started flooding in. He tracked and responded to them all, and maintains a log of sightings he considers reliable on hisweb site (all conversations are confidential). He thinks that more and more people are becoming more willing to discuss the phenomenon without fear of ridicule.
"We did a lot of outreach in 2015," he says. Until recently, "a lot of people didn't want to discuss their sightings because they were scared they would be laughed at. But when they come to our web site, they see that they are not alone." His group also hosts monthly meetings where UFO-related matters are discussed.
Open-minded as he evidently is, Milot knows some of the claims, if not most, are hard to believe, and that skeptics need to be won over. For every Mulder, there are thousands of Scullys.
One of the latter is Dr. Joe Schwarcz, at McGill University's Office of Science and Society. He says he believes in UFOs—inasmuch as we stick to the literal definition. "You could see something go by your window and it would be an unidentified flying object until you realize it was your neighbour's Frisbee," he says.
"Most of the time it's just a strange cloud formation, or the reflection of light, a rocket launch, an unusual view of a planet, most likely Venus—or it could be outright fraud," he says.
He admits that some incidents require deeper explanations. "But that doesn't mean it's an extraterrestrial spacecraft."
Not that Schwarcz believes extraterrestrial life does not exist. In fact, he thinks it would be "very arrogant to think that we're the only species of life in the universe. The universe contains billions of stars, so statistically, it's unlikely [we're alone]. But it's also not likely that we've been visited by extraterrestrials because of the distances involved." Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our own, is about 26 trillion miles away.
"The laws of physics won't be transcended, we won't travel faster than the speed of light," he continues. On the other hand, "You never want to say something is impossible, because there are mysteries. You might have time warps or God knows what else, but it's very unlikely."
"The scientific community is not opposed to looking into the subject, it's fascinating to us." ET life, he says, "Is a very seductive idea. But seductive ideas aren't proof," he says.
While Milot admits there's a lack of physical proof of ET visits, that hasn't stopped him believing that aliens probably have been to Earth. "There are so many elements in people's stories that don't have a logical explanation," he says.
Any alien life form that might visit Earth, he says, "would be thousands of years ahead of us, so they could easily make the journey. They'd just look at us like we look at ants."
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