Space: Sovereignty & Space - the Role of First Canadians

15 November 2008

Canada, the world’s largest coastal nation, has a vast and sparsely populated Arctic territory. As a result of the rapid climate change experience, the Government of Canada is, rather suddenly, faced with a requirement to conduct cost effective enforcement of her sovereign rights. This will require the use of new technologies and the fusion of data to maintain accurate marine domain awareness. Most importantly, it will require a relearning of an important lesson – that the First Canadians have a critical role to play in Canada’s governance. We see this in the increasing importance of the Canadian Rangers in the Canadian Forces’ Arctic operations. The Rangers will play an increasingly important role in the enforcement of Canada’s sovereign rights in the coming years. We cannot examine new leading edge technologies without an understanding of this important linkage with the Inuit.

This year measured the second least amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean basin since detailed ice records were maintained, and this was a colder global period because of El Nina, which brings worldwide global cooling. As a result of rapidly diminishing sea-ice, we are likely to see increases in ­foreign surface shipping in Canadian arctic waters – even with a global economic ­paradigm shift and the government deficit.

Globalization and need for the free flow of trade will lead to commercial vessel movement in the North. The distance savings for commercial shipping from the Indo Pacific Basin to east coast North America and the European Union are simply too appealing. Canada needs the ability to enforce its sovereign rights in the Arctic and back up such legislation with action.

Prior to the 2008 federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new regulations extending the range at which Arctic bound ships must report to Canadian authorities through the NORDREG reporting system. This was one of the key findings of the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Chaired by Senator Bill Rompkey. We need to be able to enforce the NORDREG requirement. To do so, we must monitor our Arctic waters. The same applies to our massive ocean ­littorals on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

August 2008 – The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, and General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, visit Iqaluit in the northern territory of Nunavut to officially launch ­Operation NANOOK. The Canada Command ­sovereignty operation ranged from Iqaluit on Baffin Island to the Hudson Straits area, the operation included joint co-operation from Army, Navy, and Air Force units training Canadian Forces personnel to support other government departments. In close cooperation with the Coast Guard and RCMP, operations such as Nanook aim to increase interdepartment ­effectiveness in addition to bolstering presence in the northern territories.

How Canada accomplishes this remains to be seen – there is no one solution. The use of a combination of space based assets and passive radar, coupled with manned and unmanned air assets, backed up by a robust, active Ranger presence can provide cost effective Arctic Marine Domain Awareness and enforcement.

April 2008 – Canadian Rangers from the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG) meet up with a 440 support Squadron CC138 Twin Otter aircraft near Eureka, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, to resupply with food and fuel as the Canadian Rangers patrol Ellesmere Island as part of OP NUNALIVUT 08. One of three major sovereignty operations conducted each year by the Canadian Forces (CF) in Canada’s North, the primary intent of OP NUNALIVUT 08 is to project Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic through a CF patrol presence. In addition to projecting sovereignty in remote regions of Canada, this year’s operation assisted International Polar Year (IPY) scientists conducting research on the Ellesmere Island ice shelf. The Ranger patrols guided, sheltered and assisted the scientists as they carried out their work.

We have an opportunity to merge traditional knowledge with the latest in advanced technology. Let’s not forget that Canada is a world leader in Earth Observation technology. The present government recognized the strategic value of this space asset when the sale of Radarsat 2 was blocked. We now need to make effective use of all these assets, including the Aurora AIMP upgrades, and the fusion of the data from the new airborne radars aboard these aircraft. The next DRDC Northern Watch Conference in February, 2009 will no doubt explore all these technologies in a thought provoking way.

As we look at the enforcement of sovereign rights, we should be guided by the words of Winston Churchill: “No matter how beautiful the strategy, one needs to look at the results from time to time.” In this case, technology alone won’t solve the problem. We need out of the box thinking to find ways of doing things. Much like after a forced landing, we need – as a nation and via a whole of government response – to take a complete inventory of what we have available to do the job.

August 2008 – Iqaluit, Nunavut – the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, shakes hands with Canadian Ranger, Moses Atagoyuk during a Community Day and official launch of Operation Nanook.

In a rapidly changing Arctic, we do not have the leisure of decades of analysis. We need Marine Domain awareness up and running yesterday. The cost of equipment and infrastructure will need to be carefully considered. These technologies are cost effective and Canadian ingenuity will flourish – as it always does when the ­pressure is on.

This will certainly require the Inuit, the Arctic Canadians, to play a greater and more pivotal role in this country. Canadian writer John Ralston Saul also advocates this in his recently released book, A Fair Country – Telling Truths About Canada. Mr. Saul notes a 400-year history of collaboration with our First Nation peoples. We need to relearn that lesson, and quickly, especially when it comes to the Arctic.

This is not a new problem. It is only common sense to utilize the skills of the Inuit people who have operated and thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years. Canada is their home. When traditional knowledge of the Inuit is merged with the latest in surveillance technologies, the combination becomes a very powerful, flexible and cost-effective exercise of Canada’s ­sover­eign rights. The solution will require out of the box thinking, and strong leadership that encourages the free flow of ideas.

The creation of space-based assets and passive radar systems – combined with the strengthened interaction with the people of the North – is an exciting opportunity for Canada. The practical challenge and key will be the fusion and exchange of data in real time from these new technologies and the application of judgment and common sense. Much of the data processing and soft side can also be done in the North.

Let us not forget, the Inuit are “the First Canadians and Canadians First.” The future of Canada’s Arctic and its sovereign rights are in very good and capable hands.
Joe Spears, a maritime security lawyer and marine policy consultant, has been involved in northern issues for over 30 years.
© Frontline Canada 2008