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OTTAWA—Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern has two Twitter accounts on which she chronicles the ups and downs of the Nunavut capital.
On the plus side of her online ledger is the recent catch of a 70-tonne bowhead whale by local hunters and the first visit north by Governor-General David Johnston.
On the other side are the territory’s lamentable schooling levels and a stream of suicides, including a young man who took his life just days after his girlfriend killed herself.
Arctic sovereignty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual summer visit to the north next week falls somewhere in between, with a lot of hope and hype about asserting Canadian control across the tundra. The everyday benefits for northerners are less apparent.
“It is important that as Canadians we definitely support the federal government’s positions and initiatives to assert its sovereignty,” Redfern told the Star. “But (we) have some of the world’s highest suicide rates, high levels of teenage pregnancy, low graduation rates.”
How, she asks, can Canada claim to be master of this vast land when so many basic services crucial to the well-being of northerners are absent?
Territorial sovereignty in the north can’t exist without a healthy local population, Redfern said. “Yes, it’s a small population spread over a large geography, but it’s not insurmountable.”
Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw knows the vast expanses of the Arctic better than most, even if he is watching it via satellite in his national defence office in Ottawa.
“The north is my clear focus,” the head of Canada Command, the military branch responsible for domestic security, told the Star recently. “I’ve got (the satellite) focused on the Northwest Passage. If something pops up, I can redirect it and say, ‘I want you to take a look.’ ”
But satellite images alone do not equal sovereignty. For that, the military must move, as it is doing right now in Operation Nanook, one of three annual military exercises in the Arctic. Based again this year out of Resolute Bay, it will call on soldiers, pilots and sailors to respond to a hypothetical air crash and a marooned ship.
It’s the largest annual exercise the Canadian Forces has run out of the north in recent years — and not entirely hypothetical. Last year, the cruise ship Clipper Adventurer, sailing with 118 passengers, struck a rock shelf in Coronation Gulf and ran aground. No one was injured, but the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaker Amundsen was called in.
These military exercises are less about keeping pace with Russia’s Arctic ambitions than about supporting and securing Canadians who live in there, said Semianiw.
“It’s not about the militarization of the north. It’s about the military in the north,” he said.
It’s also about the ability of some 17 other government departments to do the same. In the event of an actual air crash, for instance, Transport Canada would be the first to know a plane has gone off radar. It would relay this back to Ottawa, and the Canadian Rangers, located across the north, would be among the first responders.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1042211–with-sparse-basic-services-can-canada-claim-the-far-north