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Canada’s sovereignty in the North.

Where to start but at the “beginning”?  Canada’s sovereignty over the region is long-standing, well-established, and based on historic title. It is founded in part on the presence of Inuit and First Nations since time immemorial.

The Arctic is fundamental to Canada’s national identity. It is home to many Canadians, including indigenous peoples, across the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and many Canadian provinces. The Arctic is embedded in Canadian history and culture, and in the Canadian soul.

The Arctic at a Crossroads

The region has become an important crossroad where issues of climate change, international trade, and global security meet. As melting sea ice opens shipping routes, it is also putting the rich wealth of northern natural resources within reach.

Additionally, increased commercial and tourism interests also bring added safety and security challenges. That includes marine as well as land search and rescue services. And most critical are the potential human-created disasters in resources and shipping.

After two plus years of standstill, cruise ships of all sizes and considerable passenger numbers are destined to return to the Arctic.  It is inevitable that the traffic increases, as the climate continues to warm and the ice on the Northwest Passage melts, with the draw of adventure for global tourists driving this growth.

Northern Canada is also emerging as a gold mining and exploration hotspot. Nunavut is set to have its third operational gold mine (Sabina) in 2025, while Agnico Eagle and Baffinland are already in the region as well. Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy defines a path for Canada to become a global supplier of choice for critical minerals and the clean digital technologies. Growth in Mining across Canada is inevitable.

All resource projects must obtain permits and construction/operation authorizations through rigorous regulatory processes. Additionally, First Nations land use is governed by agreements that legislate benefits, jobs/training and more. These criteria are also in constant state of improvement and collaboration.

The 2023 Canadian Federal budget also committed $8.7 million to Natural Resources Canada to consult Indigenous partners on developing a framework to give communities access to more resource dollars from the projects built on their territories.

Reinforcing the North

The Canadian Armed Forces play a key role in demonstrating Canada’s sovereignty across all its territory.  Formed in 1947, The Canadian Rangers are a 5,000-strong sub-component of the reserve that provide a presence in Canada’s sparsely settled north.

In the event of a security situation requiring a Canadian Armed Forces presence, the Rangers would inevitably be the first responders. However, given their lack of resources, and the fact that their small numbers are spread so thinly, they will require support. This will come from an Army Initial Reaction Unit (IRU).

Slowly, over the years, a multiple of military forces have upgraded their capabilities in the north. Billions of dollars have been and are being spent on upgrades and new war ships. This includes but is not limited to Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC), Offshore Patrol Vessels to new polar icebreakers for the High Artic operations (Canadian Coast Guard).

In the aviation sector, the list is varied from Twin Otter replacement to new fighter jets and upgrades / enhancements for the Cormorant Helicopter. The latter supports 24/7 SAR (Search and Rescue) service. Field exercises are consistent with recent LC – Hercules landings on the Arctic Ice to deploy troops during exercise Guerrier Nordique 23. This included Canada and the United States.

What is NORAD?

North American Aerospace Defense Command, known until March 1981 as the North American Air Defense Command, is a combined organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and protection for Canada, the continental United States, and Alaska.

This is very much in the news recently when Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Canada’s $38.6 billion plan to modernize North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) over the next two decades.

In January 2023, Minister Anand added an agreement with the US Government to procure 88 F-35 fighter jets. Other investments include over-the-horizon-radar to new forward operating locations.

Nasittuq supports the North Warning System (NWS)

Nasittuq is an Inuktitut word which means “looking out from a high place.”  In April 2022, The Nasittuq Corporation, an Inuit majority-owned corporation, was awarded a Government of Canada contract to operate and maintain the North Warning System (NWS) for 7 years.

This included technical and logistics services for this critical defence infrastructure. In Canada, the NWS consists of 47 radar sites located along the Arctic Ocean, including 11 long-range radar sites, and 36 short-range radar sites.

In Summary

The efforts to manage and protect the 40 percent of Canada’s land mass considered the Arctic and the North is daunting. This is home to approximately 150,000 inhabitants, of which more than half are Indigenous. Although this represents less than one percent of Canada’s population, the people and the land get more critical to support every day.

Governor General Mary Simon was in Finland on February 28, 2023 and remarked “For Canada, we take our responsibility very seriously to defend our northern sovereignty. And we will definitely continue to protect Canadian interests at home and abroad”.

“What happens in the North impacts the world, and when you look at security issues and climate change, the world is paying attention more than ever,” said Simon, an Inuk who grew up in Nunavik in northern Quebec.

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