North

DND plan to expand Arctic Rangers risky, expert says

As part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plan to strengthen Canada's presence in the Arctic, the Department of National Defence wants to increase the number of Canadian Rangers from 3,900 to more than 5,000, but one expert says that's not a good idea.

As part of the prime minister's plan to strengthen Canada's presence in the Arctic, the Department of National Defence wants to increase the number of Canadian Rangers from 3,900 to more than 5,000, but one expert says that's not a good idea.

The Rangers are part-time reservists who volunteer to provide a military presence in remote, isolated and coastal communities. Most of them are Inuit, and they are paid only when in training, or on special missions.

 "What the intent is, is to expand the Rangers to 5,000 ... by fiscal year 2011-2012," said Maj. Jim Mills, a staff officer with the Canadian Rangers National Authority.

'Decades of building trust'

An expert on the Rangers told CBC News that the army risks damaging a good program by pushing too hard for the expansion.

"Canadian Rangers, the relationships they've forged [with the military], these are over decades, decades of building trust, quiet confidence [on] both sides," said Whitney Lackenbauer, a professor at the University of Waterloo.

"To all of a sudden come bulldozing in and say we're [going to] increase things — you need to be doing more for us. There's a dangerous line [to be crossed], because we can slip over the edge, and all of a sudden find something that's been very co-operative, and see that trust relationship broken." Lackenbauer said.

If the Ranger program is damaged, Lackenbauer said, the army would lose its ability to speak to northern communities.

"By increasing their expectations, my concern is you're going to set up this really incredible success story, you're going to set these Rangers up to fail, and that would be a national catastrophe."

Military participation in the northern territories is five times that in southern Canada, he said. So, he asks, where will new Rangers come from?   

"They're going to be looking to the provincial norths, and I don't think anybody is seriously saying we have a sovereignty crisis in northern Manitoba."

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