Stephen Hawking's warnings of an alien invasion have prompted a vigorous defence of extraterrestrials by their most prominent Canadian fan.
Former federal defence minister Paul Hellyer, 86, believes not only that aliens have visited Earth but also that they have contributed greatly to human technological advances.
So he can't quite understand why the world-renowned astrophysicist views them with such trepidation; Hawking recently warned that malevolent aliens could lead to the destruction of humanity.
The longtime cabinet minister accuses Hawking of spreading misinformation about extraterrestrials.
"I think he's indulging in some pretty scary talk there that I would have hoped would not come from someone with such an established stature," Hellyer said in an interview.
"I think it's really sad that a scientist of his repute would contribute to what I would consider more misinformation about a vast and very important subject."
Hawking speculates in a new documentary that most extraterrestrial life will be similar to microbes, or small animals - but he adds that advanced life forms may be "nomads, looking to conquer and colonize" new planets.
Hellyer served in the Liberal cabinets of Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, later crossed the floor to the Conservative party and eventually returned to the Liberals.
Hellyer, who ran for the Liberal party leadership in 1968, has been speaking out publicly about "the star visitors" for years. His most recent speech was in Washington in April 2009.
He dismisses a suggestion that some people might find his views a little hard to believe.
"The reality is that they've (aliens) been visiting Earth for decades and probably millennia and have contributed considerably to our knowledge," Hellyer said.
He says earthlings owe a lot to their alien friends. Even that computer screen on your desk, he says, can trace its origins to spaceships.
"Microchips, for example, fiber-optics, they are just two of the many things that allegedly - and probably for real - came from crashed vehicles," Hellyer said.
Hellyer admits that when he was defence minister, he never got any briefings on UFOs from the military. He says he got reports of sightings, and that some of them could not be explained.
His interest in aliens goes back at least as far as 1967, Canada's centennial year.
That's the year Hellyer went to St. Paul, Alta., to officially inaugurate the world's first flying saucer landing pad which was built by the locals to celebrate the centennial.
The town continues to get about 5,000 visitors a year, with more than half making a pilgrimage to the landing pad.
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny was approached by Hellyer in late 2005 and asked to hold public hearings on Canadian exopolitics. That's the politics of how to deal with extraterrestrial contact.
Kenny, who chaired the Senate defence committee, remembers the meeting well.
"I liked Paul, I worked for him in the leadership race in 1968, and when he called me up to see me I was pleased to see him and we reminisced for a while," Kenny recalls.
"Then, wow! Out of the blue, he starts talking about extraterrestrials and how they're everywhere and they have these immense powers."
Kenny says his opinion about aliens hasn't changed since that meeting five years ago: "I think it's for the birds."
"I'm certainly not going to waste any of my time on the extraterrestrial business," Kenny said.
A past president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada agrees there might be UFOs out there, but he's a little more hesitant about aliens. He takes Hawking's warning with a grain of salt.
"I think it's an opinion more than anything," Randy Attwood said.
"I think he may be throwing the ball out into the field, just to try to get people to actually start talking about this."
Attwood says data gathered during the exploration of Mars by unmanned spacecraft give some credence to Hawking, who is an honorary member of the astronomical society.
"All things are pointing now to life on Mars in the past, possibly when its orbit was different," he said. "It had an atmosphere, it was warmer, there was running water."
"So it's quite possible that life was in fact there - not Martian wilder beasts or anything like that - but multiple-cell organisms."
Attwood says given that one of Earth's closest neighbours potentially had life, it's quite possible that life, in fact, exists elsewhere in the universe.
"Whether it's single-celled or multiple-cell, or beings that are actually travelling through space, we don't know," he said.