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.