Seemingly out of nowhere, civilians started driving onto Canadian military bases at odd hours and wandering onto government property in July 2016, distracted by their cellphone screens. Military officials did not know what to make of it.
Pokémon Go, the augmented-reality game, had soared to the top of the download charts. Within weeks, millions of people were chasing the digital animated creatures all over the world — and going places they should not go.
More than three years later, Canadian military officials have shared internal documents with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Network that show how the military, both curious and confused, reacted to the wildly popular app.
Maj. Jeff Monaghan, an official based in Kingston, Ontario, wrote in an email: “Plse advise the Commissionaires that apparently Fort Frontenac is both a Pokégym and a Pokéstop. I will be completely honest in that I have not idea what that is.”
At least three military police officers, stationed at different bases, were assigned to wander around with smartphones and notepads in hand to search for Pokémon, Pokéstops and Pokégyms, according to the documents. (Users can find Pokéballs at Pokéstops, use their Pokéballs to capture Pokémon, and train and join teams at Pokégyms.)
“We should almost hire a 12-year-old to help us out with this,” David Levenick, a security expert at a military base in Borden, Ontario, wrote in an email.
Weeks after the app became available, Canadian officials noticed an increase in suspicious activity.
One woman was found on a military base as three children with her climbed on tanks. She was playing Pokémon Go.
The police responded to a vehicle that was “acting suspiciously” in a parking lot on a military base in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, only to find a handful of Pokémon chasers.
And when another man was stopped on a military base, he was also using the app and told officials that he was trying to get more points than his children, according to the military documents obtained by CBC News.
Shortly after the app was available, the Canadian Armed Forces issued a public warning, urging civilians to avoid military property when searching for Pokémon.
Soon after, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service sent a criminal intelligence advisory to all military police officers: “It has been discovered that several locations within DND/CAF establishments are host to game landmarks (Pokéstops and gyms) and its mythical digital creatures (Pokémon).”
CBC News filed an access to information request at the time, and more than three years later, the Canadian Department of National Defense released 471 pages of internal documents related to the game. The normal response time should be up to 60 days, according to legislation, but a defense department spokeswoman said the review process was slowed by the number of requests received.
The game — and the unusual civilian behavior it brought — was met with mixed reaction across Canada’s military bases, according to the documents.
Officials in North Bay filed a complaint with Niantic Inc., the gaming start-up that teamed with the Pokémon company to make Pokémon Go, stating that a Pokéstop location on the base would increase traffic and negatively affect the base’s mission, according to CBC News.
Other military officials were more optimistic about the increased foot traffic.
“Maybe some extra people will visit the museum!” Maj. Alicia Saucier wrote of the military base in Petawawa, Ontario.
Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that fuses digital technology with the physical world, allowed players to use their smartphones to find Pokéballs, Pokémon gyms and Pokémon, the exotic monsters from the Japanese franchise.
The app assured new users that “Pokémon can be found in every corner of the earth.”
And that quickly caused problems.
In search of digital animated creatures, users flocked to areas they should not have gone, including memorials, cemeteries and military bases. There were injuries and fatalities connected to the game, and authorities around the globe expressed alarm.
Officials in Saudi Arabia called the app “un-Islamic,” and those in Bosnia warned players to avoid looking for the creatures near land mines left over from the 1990s. The authorities in Egypt and Russia warned that the game could be a security risk.
One month after the app was available for download, the Pentagon urged United States military troops and other defense personnel to remove the game from government-issued cellphones after reports that users, distracted by the virtual Pokémon, were getting injured while walking or driving.