Arctic nations talk search and rescue

Members of the eight circumpolar nations discussed search and rescue co-operation this week, and one aviation expert says Canada needs to honour its promise to increase its SAR resources in the North.

Meeting in Whitehorse this week to build on agreement signed in May

Capt. Steve Waddell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Forces, says co-operation between circumpolar nations on issues such as search and rescue is more common than disputes over sovereignty. (David Croft/CBC)

Delegates from eight circumpolar countries met in Whitehorse this week for a conference on Arctic search and rescue co-operation.

The purpose of the meeting of members of the Arctic Council Oct. 5 and 6 was to study the Arctic Search and Rescue agreement signed in May in Nuuk, Greenland, and to examine ways to enhance search and rescue capability and response across the North.

Besides Canada, the members of the Arctic Council are Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia and the United States. It took 30 hours for some of the delegates to get to Yukon.

"What we want to do is bring them all together, talk about how about how they do it in their own areas, but more importantly how can they collaborate, bring those resources to bear, in areas that are a little more challenging to get to, that we might need an international response," said Capt. Steve Waddell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Forces.

"One country might have a particular asset or capability that would be useful to bring to bear, somebody else might have the better co-ordination aspect, it might be happening in another country's area of jurisdiction and it's about bringing all those capabilities and capacity together to save those lives."

Waddell said co-operation between the countries is much more typical than the high profile stories about Russian planes crossing into Canadian airspace or the Danish claiming Canadian territory. 

"This isn't about defence," he said. "This isn't about security or military issues; this is all about search and rescue."

Canada committed to increase Northern resources

In the agreement signed in May, Canada committed to build up search and rescue resources in the North.

After a string of recent air crashes, some in the aviation industry are calling on the Canadian government to act on this promise.

Two aircraft were dispatched by the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at CFB Trenton in Ontario when Air Tindi flight AT200 went down near Lutselk’e, N.W.T., on Tuesday. Trenton is more than 3,000 kilometres from Yellowknife, the closest city to Lutselk'e.

"We need Ottawa to pay more than lip service to building up our capabilities," said aviation expert Robert Kokonis. "It is simply insufficient to say we have a major search co-ordination centre in Trenton."

He's calling on the federal government to establish a search and rescue base in Yellowknife, equipped with a rescue helicopter and a fixed-wing plane that can travel long distances.