Canada May Arm Coast Guard Icebreakers

23 10 2010

The Conservative government has revealed that it will consider arming the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreakers as a way to bolster Arctic sovereignty.

The government has also indicated that it will review new shipping regulations in the Northwest Passage and other Arctic waters with an eye to extending mandatory registration of foreign vessels — which currently applies only to large freighters and other heavy ships — to all foreign-ship traffic in the region, regardless of size.

The proposals are part of the government’s response, tabled in Parliamant this week, to a report from the Senate fisheries committee about strengthening Canada’s presence in the North.

“My reaction is very positive,” said Senator Bill Rompkey, the Liberal chairman of the committee that issued the December report titled “Controlling Canada’s Arctic Waters: Role of the Canadian Coast Guard.”

“We need to know what vessels of all kinds are doing up there,” said Mr. Rompkey, citing terrorism, drug-smuggling and illegal immigration as potential sources of trouble in a less-frozen Far North.

The Senate committee had urged the government to equip icebreakers “with deck weaponry capable of giving firm notice, if necessary, to unauthorized foreign vessels” in Canada’s northern waters.

The government responded that it “partially supports” the recommendation and that it will “review the Canadian Coast Guard enforcement role, including the possibility of arming CCG icebreakers.”

Two of Canada’s leading experts on Arctic geopolitics also applauded the government for agreeing to study the idea of arming the country’s icebreakers.

“It makes total sense to have the capability for greater enforcement if it becomes necessary,” said University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert.

And Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia international law expert, said the “quiet authority of a deck-mounted gun” is a reasonable show of force in the Arctic, and does not constitute a provocation to foreign countries or “preparing for war with the Russians.”





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