Canada well placed on new Arctic search and rescue agreement
Jan. 7, 2011, Ottawa - The federal government is downplaying suggestions that a new international agreement on Arctic search and rescue will force Canada to upgrade its capabilities in the region.
January 7, 2011 By The Canadian Press
The agreement, negotiated by the eight Arctic countries and expected to be signed in May, assigns legal areas of responsibility to each nation and lays out how each will work together in the event of an emergency in the Far North.
Canada is already well-placed to live up to its obligations once the treaty is formally signed, says a response from the Department of Foreign Affiars.
"Canada has established aeronautical and maritime search and rescue systems in the Arctic,'' said the department in an emailed response.
"The draft aeronautical and maritime search-and-rescue agreement will serve to improve search and rescue effectiveness and efficiency in the Arctic through enhanced co-operation and co-ordination amongst Arctic states.
"Key provisions in the draft agreement include: designation by all Arctic states of their respective responsible search and rescue authorities, agencies and co-ordination centres; principles for
conducting, co-operating and co-ordinating search and rescue operations; and developing best practices including conducting joint search-and-rescue training exercise as appropriate.''
The department did not make anyone available for an interview or immediately respond to follow-up questions.
Critics have pointed out that Canada's only northern-based, search-and-rescue assets are four aging, slow Twin Otter airplanes in Yellowknife. Rescue co-ordination centres are based in Ontario, Vancouver Island and New Brunswick.
Meanwhile, Arctic overflights by passenger jets have been increasing and now number in the tens of thousands every year. Shipping traffic, including large cruise ships, is also growing.
The government has been considering buying new fixed-wing aircraft for the North for years, but no decision has been made.
Defence department spokespeople weren't able to respond to questions about how the new agreement might affect that process.
Foreign Affiars did agree that the deal could signal a new importance for the Arctic Council — the eight-member group of Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway that negotiated the deal.
"Once it is signed and ratified by all Arctic states, the draft search-and-rescue Agreement will be the first legal instrument developed under the Arctic Council,'' the department said.
"The successful conclusion of the search-and-rescue agreement is a priority for Canada and represents a good example of the type of enhanced role that the Arctic Council can play. It could serve as a model for addressing future challenges and opportunities in the Arctic.''
That assessment was echoed by David Balton, the U.S. ambassador for fisheries and oceans.
"We are coming more to the view that the Arctic Council is a useful forum,'' said Balton, who led the search and rescue negotiations together with a Russian colleague.
"The Arctic Council is a place where governments of the Arctic region can deal with emerging issues.''