Archived - Government of Canada Response to the Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans: Controlling Canada’s Arctic Waters: Role of the Canadian Coast Guard

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The Government of Canada would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (Senate SCOFO) for its Second Report:  Controlling Canada’s Arctic Waters:  Role of the Canadian Coast Guard.  The Government has thoroughly reviewed, and given careful consideration to, the Report and the Committee’s recommendations contained therein.  While numerous government departments and agencies have mandates to deliver programs and services in the Arctic, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) is often the only federal maritime presence in many areas of the North.  For this reason, it plays a prominent role in ensuring that Canada’s Arctic interests are maintained.

Through the framework of the Northern Strategy, the Government is well positioned to respond to emerging issues and opportunities in the Arctic.  This Strategy, which was announced by the Prime Minister in August 2007, was reaffirmed with the release of the paper Canada’s Northern Strategy:  Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future in 2009, and was recently reconfirmed through the March 2010 Speech from the Throne and Budget 2010 investments.  In addition, in August 2010, the Minister of Foreign Affairs released the Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy:  Exercising Sovereignty and Promoting Canada’s Northern Strategy, which reaffirmed Canada's commitment to its sovereignty in the North.

The Northern Strategy represents whole-of-government approach to the North, led by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).   Through its focus on four equally important and mutually reinforcing priorities (Exercising our Arctic Sovereignty, Promoting Social and Economic Development, Protecting our Environmental Heritage, and Improving and Devolving Northern Governance), it provides an effective framework to guide federal actions in the North.

Within this context, the Government agrees with the Committee’s assessment that Canada must demonstrate a robust presence in the Arctic, and that this entails demonstrating Canadian sovereignty over our internal waters, ensuring adequate capacity for monitoring, surveillance, law enforcement and emergency response, and putting in place appropriate governance arrangements among those who share responsibility for decision-making in the North. The Government does not support or only partially supports the majority of the Senate SCOFO recommendations as it is able to leverage and use actions already underway as part of its Northern Strategy to respond to many of the Committee’s recommendations.

 Once again, the Government wishes to thank the Senate SCOFO for its report.  The Government of Canada will continue to work toward ensuring the safety and sustainability of the Arctic for Northerners and all Canadians.

Responses to Committee Recommendations

Recommendation 1:

The Committee recommends that all foreign vessels that enter Canada’s Arctic waters be required to report to NORDREG, regardless of vessel size or tonnage.


The Government partially supports this recommendation.  The Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone (NORDREG) Regulations, made pursuant to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, are intended to help ensure safe and efficient navigation. The Government will study the feasibility of expanding the coverage of NORDREG.

On July 1, 2010, the NORDREG Regulations came into force and replaced the voluntary ship reporting system with a mandatory one.  These new measures will ensure the most effective services are available for current and future levels of maritime traffic, enhancing Canada’s ability to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of maritime traffic, and protecting the unique and fragile Arctic marine environment.  The application of the NORDREG captures vessels, both domestic and foreign, that pose the greatest risk to the marine environment, including:  (a) all vessels of 300 gross tonnage or more; (b) all vessels that are engaged in towing or pushing a vessel if the combined gross tonnage of the vessel and the vessel being towed or pushed is 500 gross tonnage or more; and (c) all vessels carrying as cargo a pollutant or dangerous goods, or engaged in towing or pushing a vessel carrying as cargo a pollutant or dangerous goods.  This application is similar to the mandatory reporting system on the east coast under the Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zones Regulations. With respect to vessels not currently required to report to NORDREG, the Government will continue to encourage mariners to follow safe practices on the water, such as carrying standardized safety equipment and filing a sail plan with the CCG to facilitate a response in situations of distress.

Moreover, at present, a multi-departmental approach is taken with respect to security and deterrence measures in Canada’s Arctic waters which involves, among other departments, Transport Canada, the RCMP, and the Coast Guard.  For example, while the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces do not have direct roles in the enforcement of Canadian regulations or law, they provide support to law enforcement authorities when requested by the appropriate Minister and approved by the Minister of National Defence.  Such support can be provided on a case by case basis or by establishing appropriate Memorandums of Understanding or other such instruments with the appropriate Department or Agency. 

Additionally, since 2007, the Government of Canada has announced a number of commitments to better monitor, protect and patrol its Arctic land, sea and sky and to exercise sovereignty in the North.

Recommendation 2:

The Committee recommends that, as a precautionary measure at least in the interim period before the new naval Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) are built and deployed, the Government of Canada:

  1. arm Canada’s Coast Guard icebreakers with deck weaponry capable of giving firm notice, if necessary, to unauthorized foreign vessels for use in the Northwest Passage; and,

  2. provide on-board personnel from appropriate government agencies that have the authority to enforce Canadian domestic laws with small arms.



The Government partially supports this recommendation. CCG is Canada's national civilian fleet with a mandate currently focused on ensuring safe and accessible waterways for Canadians. The CCG plays an important role in demonstrating Canadian sovereignty and providing federal services in the North.  In this regard, the CCG relies on and provides a platform to other organizations.  The Government will review the CCG enforcement role, including the possibility of arming CCG icebreakers. 


The Government partially supports this recommendation in light of the fact that, as Canada’s National Police Force, the RCMP provides an armed presence in the Arctic to enforce Canada’s domestic laws, including in the marine environment, on a case by case basis. 

The CCG has a long and established history of providing services to support DFO enforcement operations as well as to support other government departments and agencies with an enforcement role - including DND, the RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency - in all Canadian waters, with the Arctic as no exception.  The CCG has historically provided resources as required and will continue to work in partnership with other government departments and agencies to ensure their ability to fulfill their mandates under existing legislation. 

The RCMP will continue to leverage current capability with other stakeholders, such as the CCG, as required.  Looking forward, and with a view of building on existing cooperative partnerships such as the Marine Security Enforcement Team (MSET) program currently operating in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region, the RCMP and CCG will continue to work together on a case-by-case basis to respond to national security threats in Arctic waters.

Recommendation 3: 

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada proactively engage the United States in bilateral discussions to resolve their dispute over the Northwest Passage.


The differing interpretations between Canada and the United States (US) over the various waterways known as the “Northwest Passage” are not disputes of ownership or sovereignty.  Rather, there is a divergence of position regarding the legal status of these waters, and accordingly the Government does not support this recommendation.
The US recognizes that these waters are Canadian, but contends that a strait used for international navigation runs through them, which would allow foreign ships a right of “transit passage” from one ocean to another.  This is consistent with the US worldwide position on freedom of navigation.

Canada maintains that the waters of the Arctic Archipelago are internal waters of Canada by virtue of historic title.  For greater clarity, Canada drew straight baselines around these waters in 1986.  Since the internal character of these waters is derived from historic title and not the drawing of baselines, no right of innocent passage or of transit passage exists through them. 
In 1988, Canada and the US signed the Agreement on Arctic Cooperation.  It has settled the debate about the legal status of the waters of the “Northwest Passage” by allowing both countries to agree to disagree without prejudice to either country’s position. The Agreement requires that the US ask Canada’s consent for its icebreakers to enter Canada’s internal waters.  This agreement has been respected and works well.

Although the “Northwest Passage” may become increasingly navigable in the future, most of the 300 transits over its 107-year long history of navigation have in fact been made by the CCG.  Navigation in these waters is taking place under Canadian regulation and control, and is subject to stringent environmental laws, such as the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.  Canada does not foresee any imminent challenges to its position.

Finally, as the Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy notes, Canada remains committed to working with our neighbours to explore the possibility of resolving boundary issues in the Arctic region in accordance with international law, notably with respect to the maritime boundary between the United States and Canada in the Beaufort Sea and the maritime boundary between Canada and Denmark in the Lincoln Sea.  

Recommendation 4:

The Committee recommends that a Cabinet committee on Arctic affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister and comprising the Ministers of Indian and Northern Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans, National Defence, Environment Canada, Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Transport Canada, be created to further develop national Arctic policy, in cooperation with the three territorial governments, and to ensure that attention to northern issues and Arctic policy is maintained.


While the Government shares the Committee’s view on the importance of northern issues and Arctic policy, the Government does not support this recommendation.  These issues are reflected in the Government’s comprehensive Northern Strategy that comprises four equally important, integrated priorities: exercising Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, protecting the country’s environmental heritage, promoting social and economic development, and improving and devolving Northern governance.  The 2010 Speech from the Throne also reiterated the importance the Government places on Canada’s North. 

The Government shares the Senate’s view of the importance of effective Cabinet consideration of northern issues.  The existing Cabinet committee structure provides for appropriate consideration of these issues in a manner that reflects their cross-cutting nature.  The integrated approach among Cabinet committees ensures that a number of Ministers play an important role in the implementation of the Government’s Northern Strategy and bring important perspectives to Cabinet committee discussions.  At the same time, the Prime Minister has reinforced the importance of northern issues for the Government by chairing meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning specifically dedicated to the Northern Strategy, including in Inuvik in August 2008 and then in Iqaluit in August 2009, and the Prime Minister visited the Arctic in August 2010.  

Also, the Government values the collaboration of the territorial governments in developing the Arctic policy.  Accordingly, Government of Canada officials meet regularly with Arctic indigenous representatives and territorial government representatives through Canada’s Arctic Council Advisory Committee to develop Canadian positions for the Arctic Council and discuss issues of common interest. Established in Ottawa in 1996, the Arctic Council is a high-level forum created to advance circumpolar cooperation. Canada was the first Chair, in 1998, and will assume chairmanship again in 2013. Member states are Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia, the United States and 3 European Union Member States: Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

 The Government of Canada is dedicated to fulfilling the North’s true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada.

Recommendation 5: 

The Committee recommends that until the CP-140 Auroras are replaced by new patrol aircraft in 2020, the Government of Canada consider expanding maritime air surveillance in Canada’s North either by increasing Canadian Forces capability or contracting specially equipped aircraft from the private sector.


The Government recognizes the importance of surveillance in the North, and partially supports this recommendation.  The CP-140 Aurora is the primary platform used by the CF to conduct air surveillance in the Arctic and responds directly to detections made by ground and space-based sensors.  However, the vastness of Canada’s North demands a multi-layered approach to surveillance that includes not only aircraft, but also ships and both ground and space-based sensors.  Combined, these systems offer the most effective and efficient means of surveying the North as they can cover an extremely large area and operate in all types of weather conditions, day or night. 

The Government is making significant investments through the Canada First Defence Strategy to enhance these capabilities in support of the Northern Strategy.  The acquisition of Arctic/Offshore Patrol ships (the first of which is to be delivered in 2014), a new deep water berthing and refueling facility in Nanisivik, and the establishment of a new Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay will all contribute to enhanced situational awareness in Canada’s North.

Together with other departments and agencies, the Canadian Forces (CF) play an important role in the North. 

In addition, the Government has committed to procuring maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Aurora fleet.  The new aircraft will become part of a “system of systems”, which will also comprise sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites, to keep Canada’s maritime approaches safe and secure, including the Arctic.  In the interim, the CP-140 Auroras are being modernized to improve their capabilities.  Given the importance of their role in protecting Canada’s North, the Aurora aircraft will be equipped with a state-of-the-art sensor package that will significantly enhance their maritime and overland surveillance capability.

The CF have been implementing a number of other initiatives to increase awareness in the air, from space, and on the ground.  For instance, satellites and ground-based sensors and radars have been effectively utilized for wide-area surveillance.  RADARSAT-2 is one such satellite that is capable of providing enhanced situational awareness of Canada’s North and may be used to cue aircraft and ships to investigate any suspicious sightings or activities.  The CF are also increasing the number of Canadian Rangers on the ground and is on track to reach a target of 5,000 Rangers by 2012, many of whom will operate in Canada’s northern region.  The expansion and modernization of the Ranger capability will enable them to provide a stronger, more effective military presence in Canada’s most remote and isolated areas.

Departments and agencies are continuously working to develop new and innovative ways to improve Canada’s surveillance of the Arctic.  The recent CCG-led implementation of satellite-based Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), for example, has expanded Canada’s surveillance capacity in Arctic waters up to 85 degrees latitude and out to 2000 nautical miles for vessels intending to enter Canadian ports.  Operation NANOOK, led by DND, is conducted on an annual basis in the Arctic, and gives partners from other departments and agencies a chance to highlight interoperability and cooperation in the North by conducting surveillance and presence patrols. 

Federal departments are working cooperatively to leverage government-owned aircraft for surveillance activities.  This year, DND will be piloting an arrangement with Transport Canada’s (TC) Iqaluit-based Dash-7 ice reconnaissance aircraft to conduct contracted surveillance flying for the CF.  This agreement will be further developed to incorporate the aircraft into the surveillance plan of Canada Command’s Joint Task Forces North and Atlantic.  DFO’s Conservation and Protection office is also piloting an arrangement to use the TC Dash-7 aircraft to expand Arctic maritime surveillance capacity, and will be undertaking patrol activities with Joint Task Force North to increase fisheries surveillance capacity in the North.  

Recommendation 6: 

The Committee recommends that the “Arctic Vision” include the notion of the Coast Guard, along with the Canadian Forces, having a year-round northern operation administered in the North to demonstrate that Canada is serious about protecting Canadian interests and the interests of Canada’s northern residents.


The Government partially supports this recommendation.  The CF maintain a year-round presence in the North, which includes Joint Task Force (North) Headquarters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (the regional command responsible for the North under Canada Command), approximately 1,650 Canadian Rangers located throughout the Arctic, and Canadian Forces Station Alert.

The RCMP also maintain a year-round presence in the North.  The RCMP has over 60 detachments and offices distributed between its three northern divisions (Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, Nunavut) serving a combined population of approximately 101,000 in the North, with over 400 Regular Members, 50 Civilian Members, 60 Public Service staff and 4 special constables

In response to the Senate SCOFO’s previous report on the role of the CCG in the Arctic, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the CCG are developing a long-term strategic Arctic Vision that will provide an integrated approach for DFO and CCG activities in the North over the short, medium, and long-term.  This vision will help to guide the specific activities of the department and the CCG, while the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy continues to provide a framework for the integrated work of departments and agencies across government. 

DFO and the CCG recognize that a key component of protecting Canada’s interests in the North is a strong, coordinated Government of Canada presence.  Having operated extensively in the Arctic, the department understands the challenges associated with establishing a permanent, year-round presence in the region, including the vast geography, short open-water season, harsh environment and resulting high operating costs. 

Although the pace of change in Canada’s North is rapid, the amount of commercial marine traffic in the near future is likely to remain low relative to other regions, and will include, to a large extent, Government vessels.  This provides the Government of Canada with an opportunity to put regulatory frameworks and infrastructure in place to ensure vulnerable ecosystems are protected while enabling responsible development.

Recommendation 7: 

The Committee recommends that Canada develop a long-term plan and provide the funding necessary for the acquisition of a suitable number of new multi-purpose polar ice-breakers capable of operating year-round in its Arctic Archipelago and on the continental shelf.


The Government supports this recommendation and is committed to building and maintaining an effective federal fleet of ships to support program requirements addressing the Government of Canada’s priorities and concurs with the need for long-term vessel planning.  In this regard, the CCG already undertakes long-term planning with regards to the maintenance and renewal of the fleet through its Long-Term Capital Plan and its Fleet Renewal Plan.

To date, the Government has allocated funding for the first phases of the Fleet Renewal Plan.  Budget 2008 provided $720 million in capital funding and $25 million in annual operating funding for the acquisition of the new Canadian-built multi-taskable polar icebreaker, CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, which will come into service when CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent reaches the end of its operational life in 2017.  Recognizing changing conditions in the North, this new icebreaker will provide enhanced capability to the CCG by providing for increased coverage in the Canadian Arctic and adjacent waters.  Once operational, it will be a large, multi-taskable icebreaker, capable of autonomous operations in the Arctic from May through January, and capable of safely over-wintering in the Arctic if necessary.

At present, the CCG has two heavy icebreakers, four medium icebreakers, and several other multi-taskable ice-capable vessels that can be assigned seasonally to Arctic ice operations.  Additionally, the CCG has three smaller vessels in the Arctic, two permanently stationed in the Arctic supporting aids to navigation on the Mackenzie River, and one available to support science in the Western and Central Arctic.

Recommendation 8:

The Committee recommends that the Canadian Coast Guard identify areas in the Arctic at high risk of a major cargo or oil spill, assess current response capabilities, and communicate the results of the assessment to Canada’s northern communities.  The Government of Canada should provide funding to train northern residents in the use of oil spill containment equipment for oil spills close to shore.


The Government partially supports this recommendation.  Transport Canada is the lead federal department responsible for the governance of the National Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, while the CCG is responsible for responding to spills North of 60° latitude.  As such, the CCG has response equipment and responders strategically placed across the Arctic in areas of primary risk and in many communities across the Arctic.  Currently, these are areas where seasonal transfers of oil products occur, as there is no crude oil tanker traffic in Canadian Arctic waters at the present time.

In order to enhance the CCG’s ability to respond to oil spills in the Arctic, Budget 2007 provided the CCG $2.3 million over three years to improve Canada’s oil spill response capacity in the Arctic.  The CCG has since purchased and deployed community-based first-response equipment so that by the end of 2010 a total of 19 Arctic communities will be equipped to respond to local on-water spill events using containment and recovery equipment.  The CCG also provides response training to members of local communities so that they may effectively deploy equipment in the event of a spill. 

As noted in the recent Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy, Canada recognizes and values the importance of working closely with other Arctic states and will take every step possible to prevent a spill in Canadian waters.  Moreover, while there are existing exploration licences in the Beaufort Sea, drilling is not currently expected before 2014 and all permitting is subject to NEB approval.

The Arctic Council, with significant Canadian participation, updated its Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines in 2009.  These guidelines recommend standards, technical and environmental best practices, management policy and regulatory controls for Arctic offshore oil and gas operations.  Canada will act on the request from the Arctic Council that all states apply these guidelines as minimum standards throughout the Arctic and will encourage others to do so as well. 

Finally, the National Energy Board, which has regulatory oversight for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic, announced in May 2010 that it would be looking into Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements.  Federal departments such as DFO will be making submissions to this review. 

Recommendation 9:

The Committee recommends that additional federal funds be provided to the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary for the purchase of tangible assets directly related to the provision of search and rescue services.


The Government does not support this recommendation.  The Government of Canada remains committed to enhancing marine safety in the North, as outlined in the Northern Strategy and reaffirmed in the March 2010 Speech from the Throne.  Key to achieving this aim is ensuring efficient coordination among the various federal organizations involved in Arctic search and rescue (SAR) activities and developing effective collaborative arrangements with other Arctic states.  The National Search and Rescue Program reports to the Minister of National Defence, the lead Minister for SAR.  The Program is supported by the National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS), and is advised by two national-level bodies:  the Federal Interdepartmental Committee on Search and Rescue and the Provincial/Territorial Ground Search and Rescue Council of Canada.  In conjunction with its federal and provincial/territorial partners, and under the aegis of Canada’s Northern Strategy, the NSS is currently leading a working group in the development of a Northern SAR Strategy.

The Government remains committed to the existing Contribution Agreement between the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which provides $4.9 million annually to support insurance and training costs for the CCGA. Under the Agreement, the CCGA is responsible for providing and operating suitable seaworthy vessels that meet all safety, equipment and capability standards established by the Canada Shipping Act 2001. Although CCGA is not permitted to use federal funding to support the purchase of vessels or vessel equipment, CCG does transfer surplus CCG assets to the CCGA to support the provision of SAR services where there is a demonstrable need. The CCG will continue to identify these opportunities in the future.

With respect to enhancing international cooperation, the Government has indicated its support for an Arctic Council Search and Rescue Agreement. This Agreement will enable Arctic states to provide a more coordinated response in the Arctic and will maximize available resources in the region.