Notes for an Address by the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy

No. 2009/20 - Washington, D.C. - April 6, 2009

Check Against Delivery

In a history that spans nearly fifty years, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has earned its reputation as an important forum for the discussion of international issues. So I am pleased to be here to speak to you today.

I came here as a friend of the United States to discuss shared interests and values.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated on the occasion of President [Barack] Obama’s election, there is no better friend and ally to the United States than Canada. Together, both countries have a proud tradition of defending North America and promoting peace and security abroad—including, today, in Afghanistan.

We both share the profound values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Today, I would like to share my thoughts on another common interest: the Arctic.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have decided to focus on three priorities emerging from the present economic downturn by seizing opportunities abroad: the United States, the Americas and Afghanistan.

But I have a special interest in our northern frontier.

For Canadians, the Arctic is central to our identity and our future. Canadians’ future is tied to our Arctic, and awareness is growing about the challenges and opportunities it holds, including:

  • first and foremost, the well-being of Northerners;
  • the potential for exploitation of energy;
  • international collaboration among Arctic states;
  • defence and security stakes;
  • the impact of climate change; and
  • the opening of new transportation routes.

Canada will continue to play a leading role in the development and protection of the Arctic through its Northern Strategy and Arctic foreign policy.

Let me be clear on this point: Canada is an Arctic nation and an Arctic power.

The Canadian government clearly understands the potential of the North. The Arctic and the North are part of our national identity. They make up over 40 percent of our land mass.

The North is home to more than 100,000 Canadians, many of whom are Inuit and First Nations peoples who have inhabited these lands for thousands of years.

There is surprisingly little disagreement over land and sea claims in the Arctic region. Five coastal states bordering on the Arctic Ocean—Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the U.S.—exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over much of the region, and very little of that jurisdiction is disputed.

And those areas that are disputed are well managed.

We already have an extensive international legal framework that applies to the Arctic Ocean, notably the Law of the Sea, which covers continental shelf delineation, marine environment protection and other uses of the sea.

In the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, all five Arctic Ocean coastal states reaffirmed their commitment to this framework and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.

Therefore, the five states see no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean.

Canada supports the Arctic Council as the primary international institution promoting cooperation in the Arctic, and I look forward to discussions with my Council counterparts at our meeting in Tromsø, Norway, at the end of the month.

I discussed Arctic issues recently with my Danish and Russian counterparts, and will be meeting with my other fellow foreign affairs ministers from Arctic countries in the lead-up to the Arctic Council meeting at the end of the month.

We all recognize that climate is having a disproportionate impact on the Arctic. Some experts predict that the entire Arctic could be ice-free by 2013; others say that this will happen by 2050.

Our own Canadian Ice Service, however, believes the various internal waterways known as the Northwest Passage will not likely be a reliable commercial shipping route for decades owing to extreme ice variability.

Canada will continue to regulate shipping through the Passage.

On August 27, 2008, Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada will extend the application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act from its present 100 nautical mile zone. Our purpose is to regulate all shipping in zones up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines of the Canadian territorial sea. This amendment is before Parliament now.

We have also announced that we will establish new regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, which will require mandatory reporting for all ships destined for Canada’s Arctic waters within the same 200 nautical mile limit.

Northern Strategy

Canada has a strong, integrated Northern Strategy, resting on four pillars:

  • protecting our environmental heritage;
  • promoting economic and social development;
  • exercising our sovereignty; and
  • improving and devolving governance.

Our Arctic foreign policy delivers on the international dimension of each of the four elements of this strategy, thereby affirming our leadership, stewardship and ownership in the region.


Canada has long been at the forefront in protecting the Arctic environment through initiatives like our Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.

We are building on this solid foundation to respond to emerging issues, from chemical pollutants to shipping safety, search and rescue and climate change.

We recognize that climate change is having a disproportionate impact on the Arctic. We will work through appropriate multilateral mechanisms like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address these challenges.

We are implementing an ecosystem-based approach to ocean management in the Beaufort Sea and elsewhere. And we will continue to play a leading role in the development of guidelines for Arctic shipping through the International Maritime Organization.

We have committed $85 million over the next two years to upgrade key Arctic science and technology facilities, and will shortly undertake a feasibility study on the Arctic Research Station, which is a component of our Northern Strategy. We will work in close cooperation with the international community in this regard.

Economic and Social Development

Ensuring economic and social development in a sustainable way that benefits Arctic inhabitants—particularly indigenous peoples—is a key objective for Canada.

We work closely with territorial governments and Northerners, both domestically and internationally, to help build vibrant, healthy and sustainable communities. This includes learning from traditional knowledge and supporting traditional economic activities such as the seal hunt.

I very much regret, therefore, that the European Parliament and Council are currently considering an EU-wide ban on trade in seal products.

It is particularly disappointing that such a ban is being pursued despite clear evidence that the hunting of seals in Canada is sustainable, humane and well managed.

Moreover, testimony from Inuit leaders has underscored the potential harmful effect on northern communities of such a ban. The impact on the livelihood of Northerners would be serious and immediate. Make no mistake: Canada will take all appropriate steps to defend vigorously the interests of our people.

We also work toward sustainable development as new emerging economic opportunities unfold. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves lie in the Arctic, and Canadian companies, supported by government scientists, are developing technologies that will allow us to benefit from this potential wealth.

Canada is committed to advancing progress on both the Mackenzie and Alaska pipeline projects, and looks forward to working with the U.S. to develop cooperative strategies to bring northern gas to southern markets. And we can benefit from foreign investment, innovation and expertise in this area, while ensuring that the economic benefits flow to Northerners.


Activity in the Arctic lands and waters is increasing, and so has our capacity in the North. Our first duty as Canada’s national government is to exercise, responsibly, Canada’s sovereignty in the region. In August 2007, Prime Minister Harper unveiled three new initiatives to further demonstrate Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. Progress on these is well underway:

  • the establishment of a Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay;
  • the expansion, currently underway, of the size and capabilities of the Canadian Rangers; and
  • the development of a deep-water Arctic docking and refuelling facility in Nanisivik.

Also, a new polar-class icebreaker is being built—the John G. Diefenbaker, named after a former prime minister who was a lifelong champion of the Canadian north. This vessel will be online within the next decade.

The Canadian Forces frequently conduct patrols and exercises in the Arctic. This presence also ensures that Canada can assist in responding to any emergency, from an oil spill to a search and rescue mission.

My colleague, Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, announced last week our government’s plans to establish two stations to help monitor activity in the Arctic. These stations will enhance Canada’s security and surveillance capabilities in the Arctic and contribute to scientific data on the Northern environment.

It is also important to determine where Canada can exercise its sovereign rights. That is why we are delineating the outer limits of Canada’s extended continental shelf.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea explicitly recognizes Canada’s sovereign rights over its continental shelf, and sets out a process for coastal states, like Canada, to secure international recognition for the precise limits of its continental shelf. And that is precisely what we’re doing.


Through our Arctic foreign policy, we also affirm and strengthen our domestic efforts for strong governance in the North.

Real efforts have been made to ensure that decisions affecting Northerners are brought closer to the communities themselves, so that Northerners have more control over their own destinies. We recognize and value the important role that the leadership of indigenous groups and Northerners have played in shaping our international actions.

A few weeks ago, I was in Whitehorse, Yukon, where I had a positive meeting with representatives of the permanent participants of the Arctic Council, with whom I share similar aspirations.

We recognize the need to address many of these issues by working with our neighbours through the Arctic Council, other multilateral institutions and our bilateral partnerships.

Bilateral Relationships

We will continue to engage our Arctic neighbours at the highest level to promote a stable, rules-based region.

The United States is our premier partner in the Arctic, and I would like to work with Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton to explore new opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

Our two countries have many shared interests and common purposes in the region: environmental stewardship, search and rescue, safety, security and sustainable development.

I met with Secretary of State Clinton today to discuss opportunities for enhanced cooperation on our shared Arctic interests.

Our two countries are working together to gather scientific information to map the outer limits of our respective continental shelves.

Last year, the Canadian icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent and U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy completed a joint Canada-U.S. survey of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

This resulted in high-quality data collection that benefited both countries. Canada and the U.S. are planning to conduct another joint survey in the western Arctic in autumn 2009.

The North American Aerospace Defence Command [NORAD] has stood as a model of Canada-U.S. binational defence cooperation in ensuring the safety and security of North America. We welcome the opportunity to work with the U.S. to capitalize on the joint network to improve our ability to monitor activities in the North.

Arctic Council

Canada and Canadians played a leading role in institution building in the Arctic, particularity with the establishment of the premier organization for Arctic cooperation, the Arctic Council.

Since its inception, the Council has successfully developed a common agenda among Arctic states and indigenous permanent participants. But as the region changes, so must its institutions.

We need more research on some of the key emerging issues regarding sustainable development and environmental protection that are facing the Arctic. We need to deepen our exchange of best practices and explore a more rigorous discussion on policy issues and coordination.

The Arctic Council needs to play a greater outreach and advocacy role: for example, making sure that the interests and concerns of Arctic inhabitants are reflected in the deliberations of other multilateral institutions.

The Arctic Council must also have the necessary strength, resources and influence to respond effectively to emerging challenges affecting the Arctic.


Through the international dimension of our Northern Strategy—our Arctic foreign policy—we will protect our environmental heritage, promote economic and social development, exercise our sovereignty in this vital region and encourage more effective international governance.

Through the strength of our partnerships, including with the United States, we will continue to seize opportunities and address changes and challenges together.

Our foreign policy is a reflection of our domestic policy.

Thank you.