North

Ambulances, helicopters buzz around Iqaluit as Operation Nanook wraps up

Parts of Iqaluit looked and sounded like an emergency zone Monday, but military officials said the helicopters and emergency vehicles were part of an exercise to train soldiers and emergency crews.

Parts of Iqaluit looked and sounded like an emergency zone Monday, but military officials said all the helicopters and emergency vehicles were part of an exercise to train soldiers and emergency crews.

Monday's simulation, which was part of the Canadian Forces' annual Operation Nanook exercise, involved a mock fire on board a ship in Frobisher Bay that led to many casualties.

Nunavut's emergency management team took the lead in the exercise, calling in the military to help remove 129 "passengers" from the mock Russian cruise ship.

Some of those passengers were taken to the Iqaluit hospital while others were flown to the local cadet hall, where personnel from the Canadian Border Services Agency went through the exercise of processing them.

"That was the last scenario," Lt.-Col. Gino Chretien, assistant chief of staff with the Canadian Forces' operations in the North, told CBC News on Monday.

"Right now, we are bringing back all the patrols, all around Iqaluit. And we're starting tomorrow [Tuesday] to finish our … sovereignty patrol all around here."

Staged emergencies test 'collective ability'

Operation Nanook officially ends on Tuesday, a week after about 600 military personnel landed in the south Baffin Island area for the annual exercise and Arctic sovereignty patrol.

Monday's exercise was one of several emergency scenarios that military crews, federal and territorial agencies took part in during Operation Nanook.

On Friday, RCMP officers and a police dog boarded the HMCS Toronto in Frobisher Bay, to contain a suspect that had taken someone hostage.

The next day, a small team from the Canadian Coast Guard responded to a mock oil spill in the bay, piecing huge yellow plastic booms together to create a loop that kept the slick from spreading.

Brig.-Gen. David Millar, who is in charge of the Canadian Forces in the North, said the scenarios were meant "to practise our collective ability to respond to a crisis that could happen in the future."

Northern pandemic 'a very real possibility'

Officials with the Public Health Agency of Canada were also involved, particularly during one scenario in which a contagious disease began spreading on board a ship in the bay.

"As traffic and activity increases in the North, one of the invaders, most likely, are infectious pathogens, infectious diseases that come on board with the passengers, cargo, animals or otherwise," said Dr. Theresa Tam, director general of the agency's Centre for Emergency Preparedness.

"So this is a very real possibility."

Tam said her office is looking at ways to help the Nunavut government conduct its own preparedness exercise, to test its staff's readiness to handle pandemic outbreaks.

Nunavut politicians, Inuit leaders absent

Inuit leaders were noticeably absent from Operation Nanook. No elected Nunavummiut or Inuktitut translator was present at a public panel discussion held by the Canadian Forces on Saturday.

In fact, Iqaluit lawyer Aaju Peter was the only Inuk at the discussion.

"I wanted to hear what the military and the police were doing with this whole assertion of sovereignty and how they were going about it," Peter said at the meeting.

"I also wanted to go to see how much Inuit representation there would be and what kind of questions that were going to be posed at this meeting. Unfortunately, I was on the only Inuit there."

Territorial leaders were also absent from public events held throughout the week in the Nunavut capital.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces said several local leaders were invited months in advance, but no one showed up.

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