Minister Cannon Outlines Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy

(No. 67 - March 11, 2009) The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will outline Canada's Arctic foreign policy today, as well as the leadership role the country is playing on northern issues, to an audience in Whitehorse, Yukon. The audience will include members of Canada's Arctic Council Advisory Committee.

"The Government of Canada is dedicated to ensuring that the international spotlight stays focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic," said the Minister. "We are committed to representing the interests of Canadians as we implement the international dimension of the Northern Strategy. Building a strong Canadian North is an essential part of building our nation, an expression of our deepest aspirations."

Through Canada's Arctic foreign policy, the Government of Canada is delivering on the international dimension of each of the four pillars of its integrated Northern Strategy: protecting Canada's environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development, improving and devolving northern governance, and exercising Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

"Canada is an Arctic power." said the Minister. "The Canadian government clearly understands the potential of the North—a vast, magnificent treasure we hold in trust for future generations. Through our robust Arctic foreign policy, under the guidance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada is demonstrating leadership."

Members of Canada's Arctic Council Advisory Committee will be present during the speech. The Committee is meeting in Whitehorse at the same time as the Minister's visit, and is there to prepare for the Arctic Council foreign ministers' meeting to be held in Tromsø, Norway on April 29, 2009.

"Looking ahead to Canada's chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2013, I intend to meet with my Council counterparts this year to further engage them on the challenges and opportunities unfolding in the Arctic," added the Minister. "We will explore ways to strengthen our bilateral and multilateral cooperation."

During his speech, the Minister plans to announce 20 new graduate fellowship awards, to be given out over two years, aimed at fostering innovative research and policy development on a range of issues related to Canada's role in the circumpolar world.

More information about the fellowships can be found at Canada and the Circumpolar World.

To join Canada's eDiscussion on the Arctic, please visit The Arctic: Questions and Resources.

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A backgrounder on Canada's Arctic foreign policy follows.

For further information, media representatives may contact:

Natalie Sarafian
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada


Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: The International Dimension of Canada's Northern Strategy

The Government of Canada's Northern Strategy includes a robust Arctic foreign policy. This Arctic foreign policy is creating an international environment conducive to the successful implementation of the Northern Strategy. Both the Northern Strategy and the Arctic foreign policy set out a clear policy vision that will leave a lasting legacy, enriching the lives and advancing the interests of Canadians for generations to come.

Through Canada's Arctic foreign policy the government is delivering on the international dimension of each of the four pillars of its integrated Northern Strategy:

  1. Protecting Canada's environmental heritage.
  2. Promoting economic and social development.
  3. Exercising Canada's sovereignty.
  4. Improving and devolving governance.

These four pillars provide a framework for action and affirm to the world the importance Canadians attach to their North, an integral part of a strong Canada.


An important aspect of Canada's Arctic foreign policy is the protection of the Northern environment. Canada has long been at the international forefront of this issue. The government has focused global efforts on both the impacts of climate change in the region and efforts to adapt to them. Canada has been a major actor in the negotiation of important international environmental instruments that address critical Arctic issues such as persistent organic pollutants.

Canada will continue to play a leading role in strengthening multilateral institutions to ensure that Arctic states are prepared to respond to environmental issues as they arise in the region.

Canada is extending the application of its Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act from the current 100-nautical-mile zone to 200 nautical miles. In addition, new regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 will implement mandatory reporting for ships destined for Canadian Arctic waters.

Economic and social development

Economic and social development, especially in the North, is not just a domestic issue. Canada's Arctic foreign policy will enhance the country's long-standing bilateral relationships with its Arctic neighbours. Through these relationships, Canada will strengthen Northern economic ties and development. Canadian leadership on Arctic issues has set the stage for increasing political dialogue and international cooperation, benefiting the region and its inhabitants.

The human dimension of the Arctic-ensuring that economic and social development is sustainable and benefits Arctic inhabitants, particularly Indigenous peoples-is a key objective for Canada. The country has played a leadership role in the development of the Arctic Council's Arctic Human Development Report, Oil and Gas Assessment and its soon-to-be-released Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.

Canada works closely with territorial governments and Northerners both domestically and internationally to help build vibrant, healthy and sustainable communities, incorporating traditional knowledge and supporting traditional economic activities such as the seal hunt.


Canada's sovereignty over the lands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is long-standing, well-established and based on historic title. The country exercises its sovereign rights responsibly in the region.

Canada's sovereignty and security in the Arctic remains a top priority for the Canadian government and is an important aspect of Canada's Arctic foreign policy. The Canada First Defence Strategy will help the country's military take action in exercising Canadian sovereignty in the North. Key initiatives such as Arctic/offshore patrol ships, deepwater docking in Nanisivik, an Arctic training centre, and the modernization and expansion of Canada's Rangers will ensure that the Canadian Forces are prepared to address future challenges and respond to any emergency.

Improving and devolving governance

Improving and devolving governance is a domestic priority in Canada. Decision-making has been brought closer to the communities affected. The Arctic foreign policy affirms and reinforces Canada's domestic efforts to strengthen governance in the North.

Pursuing Canadian Arctic interests internationally

The depth and complexity of the challenges facing the Arctic are significant, and Canada recognizes the importance of addressing these issues through the Arctic Council, other multilateral institutions and its bilateral partnerships.

The Arctic Council, a Canadian initiative, continues to be the premier multilateral policy-making forum through which Canada advances its Arctic foreign policy and promotes Canadian interests. Canada has played a key leadership role in the establishment of the Arctic Council. The Ottawa Declaration formally established the Arctic Council as a high-level international forum for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states on common Arctic issues, with involvement of Arctic Indigenous communities. Areas of particular interest to the Council are issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Member states of the Council are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The following international Indigenous organizations are permanent participants: the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Saami Council.

In the lead-up to Canada's chairmanship of the Council in 2013, Canada will continue to direct international attention toward a renewed focus on the role and importance of the Council. Together with its Arctic partners, Canada will ensure that the Arctic Council has the necessary strength, resources and influence to respond effectively to emerging opportunities and challenges that affect the region, including resource development, new transportation routes and the environment.

An extensive, existing international legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean. The law of the sea, notably, provides for important rights and obligations concerning the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, marine environment protection, freedom of navigation, marine scientific research and other uses of the sea. In the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, all five Arctic Ocean coastal states, including Canada, reaffirmed their commitment to this framework.

An important part of Canada's foreign policy is its close, cooperative relationships with its Arctic neighbours. Examples include collaborative efforts with the United States, Denmark and Russia on the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf. Canada has made a significant investment to ensure it secures recognition for the maximum extent of its continental shelf in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Canada's North is at the very heart of the Canadian identity. The North and its future are increasingly on the minds of the international community, and its unique ecosystems are critical to the overall health of the planet.