MacKay launches Arctic sovereignty operation Nanook in Iqaluit

Defence Minister Peter MacKay travelled to Iqaluit Tuesday to launch Operation Nanook, Canada's annual military operation to exercise Arctic sovereignty and prepare for emergencies in the North.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay officially launched Operation Nanook in Iqaluit on Tuesday. ((CBC))
Defence Minister Peter MacKay travelled to Iqaluit Tuesday to launch Operation Nanook, Canada's annual military operation to exercise Arctic sovereignty and prepare for emergencies in the North.

"Operation Nanook, if I can just say for a moment, is one of the biggest northern operations the Canadian Forces conduct each year," MacKay told a crowd of about 200 military personnel and residents Tuesday in the Nunavut capital.

"These operations serve two purposes: to exercise Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic through a strong Canadian Forces and intergovernmental presence, and to strengthen the collaboration between Canadian Forces and those other governmental departments and agencies as they serve communities like yours."

MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Canada's new chief of defence staff, spent Tuesday taking part in Operation Nanook's "community day," in which the public met military personnel and saw equipment such as a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter.

MacKay and Natynczyk's stop in Iqaluit is part of a five-day tour of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories — their first official tour of the North in their current positions. They visited Yellowknife on Monday.

On Wednesday, they will fly to Arctic Bay, where the Canadian Forces are planning to refurbish the former Nanisivik lead-zinc mine into a deep-sea military port.

"I wanted to see first-hand just the level of the infrastructure that will be required and the level of resources to bring that port to a place where it's going to be of greater use, and given the capacity that will be required when more ships are coming through," MacKay said.

The two also plan to go to Alert as part of their five-day tour.

'We're going to get good' at emergency response: Natynczyk

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk told military staff Tuesday that they're 'going to get good' at emergency response exercises during Operation Nanook, which runs to Aug. 26. ((CBC))
About 600 army, navy and air force personnel are in Iqaluit to take part in Operation Nanook, which runs until Aug. 26. Two warships, Twin Otter aircraft and an Aurora surveillance plane have also been brought up for the exercise.

Local and territorial government officials, along with emergency agencies that work in the North, came up with three scenarios that will challenge the troops in emergency responses. They include everything from a cruise ship run aground to a disease outbreak.

"We're going to try out a few scenarios, and those scenarios are the scenarios that our government partners want us to try out," Natynczyk told military members in the crowd Tuesday.

"And guess what? We're going to learn about them ... and we're going to get good at them. And every time we do this exercise, it's going to to get better."

MacKay praises Canadian Rangers

About 60 to 80 members of the Canadian Rangers militia group will also be deployed to Kimmirut and Pangnirtung as part of Operation Nanook.

On Monday, MacKay and Natynczyk visited Yellowknife, where they praised the Rangers for their role in maintaining Canadian sovereignty across the North.

"I would describe the Rangers' role, our Canadian Rangers, as the front lines of asserting Canadian sovereignty here in the Arctic," MacKay said during his visit that afternoon with some Rangers near the Yellowknife River.

The 4,200-member militia group — equipped with rifles that were first introduced 100 years ago — is part of a defence system that includes a state-of-the-art radar satellite launched earlier this year.

"If you sit back, especially in some climate that's very warm like down south, it is easy to be an armchair critic," Natynczyk said.

"But you have to be up here and survive the conditions through the winter, and recognize when weather's bad, that's when things go wrong, that's when you need the natural skills of our Rangers."

Mackay said the Rangers' weapons are an example of that expertise: the government's plans to replace their Lee Enfield No. 4s were put on hold when Rangers protested, saying the bolt-action .303-calibre rifles are still the best firearms to use in extreme Arctic cold.