Auditor General of Canada Report “Arctic Waters Surveillance”

By Dan Middlemiss, 17 November 2022

Less than a month ago, Canada’s top soldier warned a parliamentary committee that Canada had but a “tenuous hold” on its sovereignty in the Arctic and that this grip would likely come under “increasing challenge” in the decades to come.1 Yesterday, Canada’s Auditor General (OAG) published an in-depth report on just how tenuous this hold is.

The main message in the summary section goes as follows:

“Overall, the federal government has not taken the required action to address long-standing gaps affecting its surveillance of Canada’s Arctic waters. As a result, 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. These requirements are growing as a warming climate makes our Arctic waters increasingly accessible to vessels and as interest and competition for this region grows.

The long-standing issues include incomplete surveillance, insufficient data about vessel traffic in Canada’s Arctic waters, poor means of sharing information on maritime traffic, and outdated equipment. The renewal of vessels, aircraft, satellites, and infrastructure that support monitoring maritime traffic and responding to safety and security incidents has fallen behind to the point where some will likely cease to operate before they can be replaced. For example, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada risk losing presence in Arctic waters as their aging icebreakers and patrol aircraft near the end of their service lives and are likely to be retired before a new fleet can be launched. Compounding this issue is the useful service life of satellites, which are also nearing their end and currently do not meet the needs of federal organizations. Delays in renewing this equipment coupled with the lack of a contingency plan could significantly compromise these organizations’ presence in Arctic waters. Furthermore, some of the government’s investments in support of Arctic surveillance, such as the Nanisivik Naval Facility, provide little value.

Action is needed to close gaps and put equipment renewal on a sustainable path to provide a full picture of what happens in the Arctic, which is essential to developing the actions needed to monitor maritime activities and respond to threats and incidents.”2


1. Murray Brewster, “Canada’s ‘tenuous hold’ in Arctic could be challenged by Russia, China, says top soldier,”, 18 October 2022. Accessed at:,military%20commander%20warned%20a%20parliamentary%20committee%20on%20Tuesday.

2. Auditor General of Canada, Report 6: Arctic Waters Surveillance, November 2022. Accessed at:


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