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Canadian Coast Guard Dinner Brings All Students Together

February 1, 2016

Task Force students from JSIS 495C: The Arctic – A New Player in International Relations, traveled to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, from January 23rd to 30th, 2016 to engage in on-the-ground research with organizations and specialists in the field and learn about climate change and the current issues facing the Arctic region. Below are student articles of their trip and learning experience.

The Canadian Coast Guard plays an important role in Arctic affairs but cannot let geopolitics and funding hinder its operation.

The Arctic Task Force shared dinner on Wednesday with Joël Plouffe and Pablo Sobrino discussing the role the Canadian Coast Guard plays in Arctic affairs and the differences between Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard. Pablo Sobrino is the Executive Advisor on Strategic Directions at the Canada School of Public Service and has over 35 years of public service, including years of experience in the Canadian Coast Guard. Joël Plouffe is the co-managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook and Research Fellow at the Interuniversity Research Center on the International Relations of Canada and Québec at the National School of Public Administration. Unlike the U.S. Coast Guard, which is an armed branch of the military in the Department of Homeland Defense, the Canadian Coast Guard is a civilian organization approximately one-tenth the size of its southern counterpart (the Canadian Navy is responsible for maritime enforcement of law). The Canadian Coast Guard’s primary missions are escorting supply ships to the Arctic, territory management issues, search-and-rescue, environmental response, icebreaking, maintaining navigational aids, and hydrography. This difference in construction between the two Coast Guards provides some unique opportunities and challenges in coordination between the two countries.

Climate change is weakening the sea ice, creating more floes which can strand Inuit at sea while hunting and fishing – thus, Increasingly Inuit are undergoing threats to their safety as a result of climate change impacts. As a result, there has been an increase in search-and-rescue operations. The Canadian Coast Guard is one of the primary organizations responsible for carrying out the Arctic Council’s search-and-rescue binding agreement. Over the past couple years, Russia has been left out of many attempts to collaborate on search-and-rescue due to tensions between Russia and western countries after the annexation of Crimea. Relations were particularly cool between Canada and Russia. Given the recent change in Canada’s Prime Minister, these relations are expected to improve. Through the newly established Arctic Coast Guard forum, the Canadian Coast Guard is able to partner with other Arctic nations to exercise rescue capabilities and continue to develop diplomatic partnerships between nation-states. Furthermore, the differences between U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards allow flexibility when dealing with civilian and military needs. This partnership should continue to develop, so to ensure coverage of search-and-rescue continues regardless of geopolitical constraints in the Arctic.

Canada suffers similar issues as the United States with respect to its icebreaking capacity. Though building a new icebreaker, CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, Canada still has limited icebreakers to provide support for activities in the Arctic, and the new icebreaker will not be available until 2022. The 2012 National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy may help in improving the process by which new icebreakers can be built. Given the current fiscal constraints, the U.S. and Canada should consider other alternatives for funding additional icebreakers. Both Canada and the U.S. may want to turn to Finland or South Korea to help fill its immediate needs until domestic procurement can resolve itself.


By: Brandon Ray

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.