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Auditor general finds aging icebreakers, aircraft hamper monitoring of Arctic waters

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More than a decade of delay and inaction has left the ships, planes and satellites that monitor Canada’s rapidly opening Arctic on track to be retired before they can be replaced, the auditor general says.

“The federal government has not taken the required action to address long-standing gaps affecting its surveillance of Canada’s Arctic waters,” says the report released Tuesday.

“The federal organizations that are responsible for safety and security in the Arctic region do not have a full awareness of maritime activities in Arctic waters and are not ready to respond to increased surveillance requirements.”

Auditor General Karen Hogan found that sea ice cover has shrunk by 40 per cent over the last 50 years, with a corresponding tripling in vessel traffic to more than 450 transits.

That has left Canada’s Arctic open to threats including unauthorized entry, illegal fishing and marine pollution. As well, Canada’s ability to respond to accidents, such as the grounding of a cruise ship in poorly charted waters, is limited.

“More traffic just means more possibilities and more risk,” Hogan said.

The federal government first noted those challenges in 2011, Hogan wrote. Work plans and gap assessments followed periodically, but little action ensued.

As a result, Hogan found the planned service life of all six of the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreakers will expire before new ones can be delivered. The lifespan of those vessels has had to be extended through retrofits and upgrades to keep them operating.

Even so, two of them, the Louis St-Laurent and the Terry Fox, will be permanently docked just as the new icebreakers are expected to enter service.

“(That leaves) little room for further delay if a gap in icebreaking capacity is to be avoided,” says the report.

Three second-hand commercial icebreakers have had to be purchased and refitted to ensure icebreaking continues.

The situation is similar with satellites and airplanes.

The RADARSAT satellites that peer from space have an expected service life that extends until 2026. The Canadian Space Agency says it won’t be able to orbit a replacement for another decade and a system operated by National Defence won’t be working until 2035.

The Aurora aircraft that patrol the skies have an expected life through 2030, but they won’t be replaced until at least two years later.

The report notes that three of the eight naval patrol vessels intended for Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard have been delivered — although that program is also behind schedule.

Meanwhile, an Arctic naval base built on the site of an old mine port on the north tip of Baffin Island is of little use. Hogan wrote that because of budget cuts to the design, the Nanisivik Naval Facility, to open 2025, will only be used four weeks a year.

“The … facility will not effectively support the vessels that operate in the Arctic,” the report said.

Arctic security expert Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary praised the report for clearly laying out what others have thought for years.

“I’m seeing nothing I haven’t suspected all along,” he said. “Don’t you have to shake your head and wonder ‘are we going to see movement?’”

Huebert called the imminent lack of satellite capacity particularly damning.

“To hear that by 2026 RADARSAT is going to be coming to the end of its life and there’s no plans in place for the replacement. … That’s not front and centre in terms of government replacement?”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government has accepted the report’s recommendations.

“We are committed to working with our partners to address long-standing gaps in Arctic maritime domain awareness, particularly the continuous tracking of vessels … and to improving information sharing to ensure our Arctic waters are safe and secure,” he said in a statement.

Canada can no longer afford to shortchange its northern frontier, Hogan said.

“The ability to surveil the Arctic takes tools and tools are aging. As delays continue, a gap will materialize.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Three soldiers killed in car crash in New Brunswick over weekend

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OROMOCTO – Three soldiers have been confirmed killed in a car crash last weekend in New Brunswick.

National Defence spokesman Kened Sadiku says the three soldiers from 31 Canadian Brigade Group died in a non-service-related crash near the town of Oromocto on Sunday.

RCMP say officers responded to a report of a crash at 3:10 a.m. on Route 105 in Sheffield, N.B., about 30 kilometres east of Fredericton.

They say the three people in the car were found dead.

Police say they believe the crash happened when the eastbound car swerved off the road, hit a tree and caught fire.

No other details about the victims were given.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Sudden Death of Polar Bear Leads to Closure of Wild Canada Exhibit at Calgary Zoo

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The Wild Canada exhibit at the Wilder Institute Calgary Zoo was temporarily closed on Friday following the sudden death of one of its polar bears, Baffin. Jamie Dorgan, the interim CEO and COO of the zoo, announced the closure during a press conference, revealing that the incident occurred unexpectedly during a routine display of sparring between Baffin and another polar bear, Siku.

The incident unfolded around 11:30 a.m. on Friday when the two bears were seen engaging in typical sparring behavior in the lower pool of their habitat. Concern arose when Baffin failed to resurface, prompting a volunteer to alert the animal care team. Despite prompt action to remove Baffin from the pool, he was pronounced dead. Dorgan noted, “We removed him pretty quickly … outwardly there’s nothing obvious,” indicating that the cause of death was not immediately apparent.

A necropsy, which is an autopsy for animals, is scheduled to be performed by the zoo’s veterinary team to determine the precise cause of Baffin’s death. “We don’t know why the bear died,” Dorgan stated, emphasizing that all potential explanations are being explored to understand the sudden loss.

Baffin, along with Siku, had been relocated from Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo to the Calgary Zoo in October 2023 as part of efforts to enhance the polar bear habitat and conservation efforts at the facility. The Calgary Zoo, a prominent institution home to over 4,000 animals from various parts of the world, recently underwent a $31 million expansion, which included improvements to the polar bear habitat.

The zoo has expressed its commitment to transparency and thorough investigation into the incident. The outcome of the necropsy will provide crucial insights into potential preventive measures and ensure the well-being of the remaining polar bear, Siku, and other zoo inhabitants.

The Wild Canada exhibit will remain closed until further notice as the zoo community mourns the loss and awaits conclusive results from the ongoing investigation.

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15-year-old ATV driver dies in collision on New Brunswick highway

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A 15-year-old driver of an all-terrain vehicle has died after a collision on a Moncton, N.B., highway.

The RCMP say they responded to a report of a crash between a parked vehicle and an ATV on Highway 2 on Thursday afternoon.

Police say they believe the 15-year-old boy was driving on the shoulder of the highway when he collided with the parked vehicle.

The teenager, who was the sole occupant of the ATV, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries and died the following day.

Police say the three people in the other vehicle were not injured.

RCMP did not release details of the speed the boy was driving at the time of the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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