Canadian forces want bigger role for Nunavut’s rangers

A report done by the Canadian Forces’ northern area headquarters says Nunavut’s rangers should be used more to protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.



Nunavut’s Rangers are ranging farther to protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

A report released last month by the Canadian Forces Northern Area headquarters in Yellowknife recommends that Rangers conduct regular exercises in the High Arctic to assert Canada’s ownership of that area.

This year, squads of the volunteer soldiers will travel to the Arctic Archipelago to make at least two so-called “sovereignty patrols.”

One, in April, will take a team of Grise Fiord Rangers to Alexandra Fiord on the east coast of Ellesmere Island. From there they will use snowmobiles to make forays out onto the land and sea ice.

Another patrol in June or July will be staged out of Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island in the Northwest Territories. Participants in that exercise will be drawn either from Resolute Bay or from the community of Holman in the Northwest Territories.

“What they will do is cover some area, and they will show the flag and report any unusual activity,” said Maj. Yves Larouche, commanding officer of the Rangers for the Canadian Forces Northern Area.

The patrols will likely involve between four and eight Rangers, and spend around a week out on the land.

This year’s trips will follow up on a High Arctic sovereignty patrol conducted jointly by the Rangers and the RCMP on Ellesmere Island last March.

Though participants on that exercise were on the look-out for foreign hunters rumoured to be poaching polar bears in the Alexandra Fiord region, Larouche said they didn’t encounter anything illegal.

According to the report, called the Arctic Capability Study 2000, the sovereignty patrols are part of a new push to insure Canada’s ownership of the High Arctic remains unchallenged.

In sovereignty, as in anything, possession is nine-tenths of the law, said Maj. Bob Knight, the former head of Nunavut’s Rangers.

“In purely legal terms, they’re proving Canada’s sovereignty over the territory they’re travelling through simply through their presence,” he said.

“If you claim that you have sovereignty over a certain area, yet you have never been there, then someone else could turn around and say, ‘Is that really your sovereign territory?’”

It’s not foreign military activity Canadian Forces officials are worried about.

What concerns them, according to the study, is “a scenario where Canada’s claim to sovereignty is whittled away by foreign commercial activity.”

Central to that concern is the Northwest Passage, where, the report suggests, the onset of global warming could bring a surge in shipping activity.

The passage is thousands of nautical miles shorter than the standard sea-route through the Panama Canal, and could be a profitable short-cut for transport companies if the polar sea ice thins out.

Canada considers the passage to be a domestic waterway, and demands that other nations secure permission before passing through it.

But other countries, including the United States, say the passage is an international channel. Canadian law, including Canadian environmental regulations, should not apply in the waterway, they say.

“To maintain sovereignty over Arctic waters, Canada must know at all times what vessels are in her waters,” reads the report.

Several hundred Nunavut residents, mostly Inuit, serve as Canadian Rangers. They are organized into 25 community-based patrols, each headed by an elected sergeant.

Every year the Rangers undergo 11-day training sessions, where they practice first-aid, navigation and traditional survival skills.

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