Canada's Arctic security focus of Edmonton symposium

Politicians and top military officials met in Edmonton Saturday to talk about perceived threats to Canada's Arctic.

Panellists discuss threat posted by Russia among other topics

Politicians and top military officials met in Edmonton Saturday to talk about perceived threats to Canada's Arctic. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Politicians and top military officials met in Edmonton Saturday to talk about perceived threats to Canada's Arctic.

The symposium was organized by the Edmonton United Services Institute, a group dedicated to raising awareness of national defence concerns among Canadians. One of the topics up for discussion was Russia and its near-incursions into Canadian airspace — and that's something politicians in attendance said is on their minds too.

"[Russia has] opened up new military bases in the Arctic. They are definitely provoking their neighbours with flying military aircraft into or very near airspace of our allies," said Jamez Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to Canada's defence minister.

About 60 people attended the symposium, including members of the public.

Jean-Christophe Boucher, an assistant professor with MacEwan University's political science department who specializes in peace and security studies, said many people don't understand the need for Arctic defence.

"Although Canadians respond to a 'northern' identity, they don't really know what it means," he said. "You really don't associate the north with defence or sovereignty issues."

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have made Arctic sovereignty a key theme since taking office.

The rapidly-shrinking Arctic ice and expanding interest in northern shipping and resource exploration have raised questions over Canada's land boundaries and sovereignty in the region.

Recent estimates put Arctic undersea oil reserves at 13 per cent of the global total of undiscovered oil, and natural gas at 30 per cent of the total.

Current rules of ownership in the region were established in 1984 in the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, which granted Arctic sea floor rights to Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway and Denmark.

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