Securing Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic

Iqaluit, Nunavut
12 August 2006


Good morning. Ublakut.

Thank you for your warm welcome.

And thank-you Paul (Okalik) for your generous introduction.

  • Mr. Premier,
  • Commissioner Hanson,
  • Minister O`Connor,
  • Colonel Whitecross,
  • Mayor Sheutiapik,
  • Elders and citizens of Iqaluit,

I am very pleased to be in Iqaluit, Canada’s newest capital. Your city is my first stop on my first tour of the North since becoming Prime Minister. 

Over the next several days I’ll be making two more stops in Nunavut:  the Alert military base at the very northern tip of Canada and the new Jericho diamond mine in western Nunavut.

In addition, I’ll be visiting the capitals of Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

I’m especially pleased to be here on Canadian Forces Day so I can observe first-hand the army, navy and air force in action at the launch of Operation Lancaster.

It is always an honour to be among the men and women of our Armed Forces again.

Across the country and around the world, Canadian troops are doing vitally important work for our country.

Defending our sovereignty, protecting our national interests, helping people in dire straits and fighting for democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

As Prime Minister, one of my first actions was to visit our brave soldiers in Afghanistan.

As you know, they are doing an outstanding job, in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

I also made it a priority to meet new recruits graduating from training at CFB Wainwright and CFB Ottawa.

And during our recent trip to Europe and the G8 Summit in Russia, Laureen and I stopped in France to pay our respects to the Canadians who fell at Vimy Ridge.

At each stop, I saw – past and present – displays of hard work, courage and dedication to Canada.

I want you to know that our new National Government is very proud of our military.

And you can count on our full support on this and all your future missions.

Operation Lancaster is a very important exercise.

Because it demonstrates our new Government’s commitment to asserting Canada’s sovereignty over our Arctic territory.

A commitment I made last December when I promised to ensure that Canada’s jurisdiction over the islands, waterways and resources in the High Arctic is respected by all nations.

But you can’t defend Arctic sovereignty with words alone.

It takes a Canadian presence on the ground, in the air and on the sea and a Government that is internationally recognized for delivering on its commitments.

That’s why exercises such as this one are so important.

And that’s why we are being absolutely clear and forthright in all our foreign policy pronouncements.

If you want to be taken seriously by other countries, you have to say what you mean and mean what you say.

And I am here today to make it absolutely clear there is no question about Canada’s Arctic border.

It extends from the northern tip of Labrador all the way up the East coast of Ellesmere Island to Alert.

Then it traces the western perimeter of the Queen Elizabeth Islands down to the Beaufort Sea.

From there it hugs the coasts of the Northwest Territories and Yukon to the Canada-U.S. border at Alaska.

All along the border, our jurisdiction extends outward 200 miles into the surrounding sea, just as it does along our Atlantic and Pacific coastlines.

No more. And no less.

Canada’s Arctic sovereignty is firmly anchored in history.

Almost 100 years ago, in 1909, a plaque was installed on Melville Island by famed Quebecois seaman Joseph Bernier, captain of the Canadian government ship Arctic.

It proclaimed, on the ground for the first time, Canada’s sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, the great Canadian navigator Henry Larsen patrolled our Arctic waters aboard the famous RCMP schooner St. Roch.

Larsen’s many voyages upheld the first principle of Arctic sovereignty: Use it or lose it.

In the 1980s, the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney won recognition of our Arctic possessions under International Law.

Canada became one of 150 nations – including most European countries, Russia, India and China – to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Only a handful of countries remain outside the treaty today. 

I have been very clear in asserting that Canada intends to enforce its rights under the Law of the Sea.

And today I am calling on all countries to sign the treaty and join Canada and the rest of the world in respecting the rule of the Law of the Sea.

Ladies and Gentlement, for far too long, Canadian Governments have failed in their duty to rigorously enforce our sovereignty in the Arctic.

They have failed to provide enough resources to comprehensively monitor, patrol and protect our northern waters.

As a result, foreign ships may have routinely sailed through our territory without permission.

Any such voyage represents a potential threat to Canadians’ safety and security.

We always need to know who is in our waters and why they’re there.

We must be certain that everyone who enters our waters respects our laws and regulations, particularly those that protect the fragile Arctic environment.

Our new Government will not settle for anything less.

And that’s why we have already begun to take action.

This month, for the first time ever, our government began conducting pollution-detection surveillance flights over our Arctic waters.

The military exercise we are launching today will take the Canadian Navy farther North than it has been for many decades.

Meanwhile we are actively exploring options for the establishment of a deep water port in the Arctic that will extend the Navy’s reach even further.

We are determined to expand the Army’s presence in the North by establishing a new Arctic training centre and revitalizing the Canadian Rangers.

New long-range unmanned aerial surveillance drones will provide continuous air patrols throughout the Arctic.

And finally we’re looking at technologies to give Canada undersea surveillance capacity – acoustic or movement sensors to detect subs and ships in our Arctic waters.

Some in the opposition dismiss our focus on northern sovereignty as expensive and unnecessary.

Some have actually come to the North and suggested our plans here are a waste of money.

To that I say, government’s first obligation is to defend the territorial integrity of its borders.

And this will become more important in the decades to come - because northern oil and gas, minerals and other resources of the northern frontier will become ever more valuable.

The technologies used in Arctic resource extraction and transport are increasingly sophisticated and affordable.

And the Northwest Passage is becoming more accessible every year: Some scientists even predict it will be open to year-round shipping within a decade.

In short, the economics and the strategic value of northern resource development are growing ever more attractive and critical to our nation.

And trust me, it is not only Canadians who are noticing.

It is no exaggeration to say that the need to assert our sovereignty and take action to protect our territorial integrity in the Arctic has never been more urgent.

The North is poised to take a much bigger role in Canada’s economic and social development.

It is attracting international attention, investment capital, people, and commercial and industrial development.

Therefore the Government of Canada has an enormous responsibility to ensure that development occurs on our terms.

In particular, we must ensure the unique ecosystem of the North, and the unique cultural traditions of the First Peoples of the North, are respected and protected.

That’s what we said we would do, and that’s what we’re going to do.

We want the world to know about the amazing opportunities that lie ahead for northern Canada; but let there be no misunderstanding:

This is Nunavut – "Our Land" – just as Yukon and the Northwest Territories and the entire Arctic Archipelago are "Our Land."

And, on this you have my word, we will back our sovereignty over "Our Land" with all the tools at our disposal, including the men and women of our Armed Forces who are launching Operation Lancaster from Iqaluit today.

Thank you, merci, Nakuqmiit.

God Bless the True North, Strong and Free!