The Canadian Forces in the Arctic – Backgrounder

In order to meet challenges and foster opportunities in an increasingly accessible North, the Government of Canada has developed an integrated Northern Strategy that is based on four pillars: exercising sovereignty, promoting economic and social development, protecting our environmental heritage, and improving and devolving Northern governance. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is the lead department on the Northern Strategy.

National Defence contributes to each pillar of the Northern Strategy, but mainly to the ‘exercising sovereignty’ pillar through the implementation of the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). The CFDS directs the Canadian Forces (CF) to demonstrate a visible presence in the region, to have the capacity to exercise control over and defend our Arctic territory, and to provide assistance to other government departments and agencies when called upon, as well as to have the capacity to conduct daily domestic and continental operations.

The CF contributes to the Northern Strategy in numerous ways: by conducting operations in the North, such as Operation NANOOK, regular patrols for surveillance and security purposes, by monitoring and control of Northern airspace under the auspices of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and by maintaining installations such as Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, the most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world.

Effective stewardship of the North can only be achieved through productive partnerships between federal and territorial departments and agencies and established relationships with Northern leaders, communities, and peoples of the North. The CF has committed to working closely with these partners, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Public Safety Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

While other government departments and agencies, such as the CCG and the RCMP, remain responsible for dealing with most safety and security issues in the North, the CF has a significant role to play in supporting them, exercising our sovereignty, and providing assistance to our citizens.


Military responsibility for the North falls under Canada Command. Canada Command conducts routine and contingency operations against threats and hazards in the North, in order to defend Canada and provide safety and security assistance in support of civil authorities. This involves improving situational awareness of the North and enhancing liaison and cooperation with other government departments and organizations, as well as territorial and provincial governments.


Joint Task Force North (JTFN), headquartered in Yellowknife, N.W.T., is responsible for CF operations in the North, except for search and rescue.

JTFN’s role is to exercise Canadian sovereignty and security by conducting routine and contingency operations in the North; contribute to the growth and development of the people in the North, namely through the Junior Canadian Ranger and Cadet programs; build the collective capability to respond rapidly and effectively to emergencies along with creating the positive and lasting partnerships to meet Canada’s safety, security and defence objectives for the region; and actively contribute to environmental stewardship of the North.

JTFN also coordinates and supports CF activities in the North, and provides liaison with the territorial governments and peoples of the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.

JTFN also oversees two youth programs: the Junior Canadian Ranger program and the Cadet program, in the three territories. The programs combine the benefits of structured youth programs with traditional cultures and lifestyles, incorporating elements as varied as public speaking; drug and alcohol education; environmental protection; local languages; and traditional music, singing and dancing. They are commonly the only youth programs offered in the North, and are therefore vitally important not only to the communities themselves, but also in developing our future Rangers, and our future Arctic leaders.


The Royal Canadian Navy plays a key role in exercising sovereignty along Canada’s three coasts and routinely sails in our northern waters. With the Government of Canada’s intention to acquire new Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) and establish a docking and refuelling facility that will support the Navy in the Arctic, there will be a marked increase in the Navy’s presence in Canada’s Arctic waters in the future.

The planned acquisition of six to eight ice-capable AOPS will enable the Navy to conduct sea-borne surveillance operations in the Arctic during the navigable season, and on the east and west coasts throughout the year.

The Department of National Defence Nanisivik Naval Facility (NNF) at Nanisivik, Nunavut, will help Canada exert a sustained naval presence in Arctic waters during the navigable season. This facility will serve as a docking and refuelling station for the Navy and other government vessels operating in the North, including those from the CCG.

Two Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOCs), located in Halifax, N.S. and Esquimalt, B.C., maintain vigilance over Arctic waters. The Navy currently hosts these MSOCs, but they represent a whole-of-government approach and an equal partnership amongst departments and agencies involved in marine security. MSOC facilities are staffed by personnel from the five core partners that have a vested interest in marine security: Canada Border Services Agency, DND/CF, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (including the CCG), the RCMP, and Transport Canada.


The Canadian Army has been active for decades in the Arctic, primarily through the Canadian Rangers program. The Rangers provide a significant CF military presence in Canada’s North as well as remote regions throughout Canada. The Canadian Rangers play a key role in exercising Canada’s sovereignty by conducting surveillance and sovereignty patrols, reporting unusual activity or sightings, and collecting local data of significance to the CF.

The CF rely on and learn from the experience and knowledge of Northern Canadians to survive and operate effectively in the harsh Arctic climate. The Canadian Rangers not only benefit Northern communities in a social and economic sense but also empower Northern Canadians to mentor and educate the CF in how to manage, respect, and ultimately care for the North.

The Canadian Rangers assist CF activities by providing local expertise, guidance and advice during operations and exercises; conducting North Warning System patrols; and providing local assistance to search and rescue activities.

In August 2007, the Government of Canada announced the establishment of a multi-purpose facility for Arctic military training and operations. The CF Arctic Training Centre (CFATC) in Resolute Bay will be used year-round for Arctic training and routine operations. The facility can also be used as a command post for emergency operations and disaster response and will provide a location to pre-position equipment and vehicles, thereby generating an increased capability to support regional emergency operations in this rugged and remote region of the country.