Military exercise to reaffirm Arctic claims

About 600 troops have arrived on Baffin Island to begin a $5.4-million exercise designed to re-affirm Canadian sovereignty.

Troops from the army, navy and air force have arrived on Baffin Island to begin a $5.4-million exercise designed to boost Canadian sovereignty.

About 600 Canadian Forces personnel will spend the next three weeks conducting Exercise Narwhal in Pangnirtung, home to 1,200 people.

The hamlet is about an hour's flight north of Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit.

Armed forces managers say they can't remember a bigger military operation in the Arctic.

Troops will be asked to search for and collect fake debris from a failed foreign satellite launch, as well as escort a fictional unauthorized foreign vessel from Canada's northern waters.

"The soldiers on the ground are going to have very rugged terrain to move across, lots of deep ravines, high cliffs and bluffs to try to move across, so it will be a real challenge to see them start from the hamlet of Pangnirtung, move across the entire peninsula and try to locate these debris fields," said army Lieut. Enno Kerckhoff.

Lewis McKenzie, a retired major-general with the army, said sovereignty missions like this have been pushed aside in recent years by international commitments.

He welcomes the start of Narwhal, saying such exercises are key to Canada maintaining control of its territory in the Arctic.

"I would say they're as much for Canadian benefit as they are for foreigners," he said.

"In other words, get it on the record [so that] in the future, if we're challenged, we have a record of taking this issue seriously. It fulfills a purpose, it puts down a marker, and from a geopolitical point of view, it's certainly important."

On his recent visit to the northern territories, Prime Minister Paul Martin said exercises like Narwhal are important "to make sure that the rest of the world understands that this is Canadian territory."