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Auditor General report underlines insufficient surveillance of Canada’s Arctic


Ottawa—A report from Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled in the House of Commons found that the federal government has not addressed longstanding issues affecting its surveillance of Canada’s Arctic waters. As a result, the federal organizations that are responsible for safety and security in the Arctic region do not have a full picture of traffic in the area, and they are not ready to respond to the need for increased surveillance as these waters grow ever more accessible to vessels because of a warming climate.

The increased accessibility of northern regions generates economic opportunities, such as mining, commercial fishing, and tourism. This spurs foreign interest and competition in the Arctic region, increasing the likelihood of unauthorized access, safety incidents, illegal fishing, and marine pollution.

The unaddressed, longstanding issues raised in the audit include incomplete surveillance, insufficient data about vessel traffic, a lack of effective means of sharing information on maritime traffic, and outdated fleets and equipment. The renewal of vessels, aircraft, satellites, and infrastructure needed to monitor maritime traffic and respond to safety and security incidents has been delayed to the point where some will likely be retired before they can be replaced. Examples include Transport Canada’s and the Canadian Coast Guard’s aging icebreakers and patrol aircraft that are near the end of their service lives.

The audit found that some of the government’s infrastructure investments for Arctic waters surveillance, such as the Nanisivik Naval Facility, did little to improve surveillance and the capacity to respond to incidents. Persistent delays in renewing and expanding equipment and capacity coupled with the lack of a contingency plan undermines Canada’s presence in Arctic waters.

“Gaps in the surveillance of Arctic waters and concerns about Canada’s aging equipment have been known for many years,” said Ms. Hogan. “The government urgently needs to address the longstanding issues noted in our audit to put equipment renewal on a sustainable path and protect Canada’s interests in the Arctic, including an improved capability to respond to threats and incidents.”

Report 6—Arctic Waters Surveillance is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

(Canadian Coast Guard photo)