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Defending Canadian sovereignty : new threats, new challenges

Issued also in French under title: Défendre la souveraineté du Canada : nouvelles menaces, nouveaux défis.
Includes bibliographical references.

In 2016, Dr. Pierre-Gerlier Forest, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, Tom Jenkins, chairman of the board of OpenText, and Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, then Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), met informally in Calgary at the margins of an official event. As the conversation unfolded, they all expressed some disappointment with the state of the public debate on matters related to Canadian sovereignty. From their respective points of views—academia, private sector, and military—Canadians were, in general, indifferent to the evolving nature of state sovereignty and, as a corollary, to the mounting political, economic, social, and military difficulties faced by Canada in a transitioning world. From military procurement projects, such as the replacement of the CF18 aircraft or the renewal of the Royal Canadian Navy main assets, to increasing Russian military assertiveness in Eastern Europe and Canadian airspace, or current foreign intrusions in our political debate through cyberspace, indigenous relations with the Crown, or even the impact of climate change, especially in the Arctic, there is no shortage of challenges. Nevertheless, there has been a general unwillingness on the part of academics, political elites, civil servants, and journalists to revisit and question accepted notions of sovereignty as they apply to Canada in the 21st century. Convinced by the urgency of the matter, the three leaders agreed to join their efforts and to hold a series of events in the hope of initiating a national conversation on the issue of Canadian sovereignty. The present project emerged from this intersectoral concern. The group organized three roundtables across Canada to culminate in Ottawa during the RCAF’s annual meeting in the spring of 2017. First, on March 27, a conference was organized at the University of Calgary on the theme of economic sovereignty. This event brought together scholars, policymakers, and federal and provincial civil servants to examine the specific challenges and opportunities faced by Canada in the economic realm. A second event was organized on March 31 by Massey College at the University of Toronto, on the theme of technological sovereignty. Participants investigated how the rapidly evolving digitalization and automatization of our societies eroded states’ capacity to control and promote policies. A third conference was organized on April 13 at Université Laval on the theme of territorial sovereignty, with a particular focus on the Arctic region. Finally, in May 2017, a select panel from these events was invited by the RCAF to their annual symposium on air power, where members of academia, military institutions, and the private sector discussed Canadian sovereignty from an interdisciplinary point of view, encompassing political, economic, social, legal, and military approaches in an effort to recognize the multidimensionality of the Canadian sovereignty debate. This book is the final outcome emerging from the initial Forest-Jenkins-Hood impromptu conversation. It gave way to what has now been a two-year analysis on Canadian sovereignty. It speaks of the commitment of the initial organizers to use their institutions to promote a national conversation that would acknowledge the genuinely complex nature of the concept of sovereignty and the particular challenges that all sectors of the Canadian society face in this respect. The book follows a logical arc where each successive chapter ties different aspects of the Canadian sovereignty debate. We begin with addressing the inherent civil-military dimensions of sovereignty with three chapters. In the first chapter, General Thomas J. Lawson (Retired) offers an insightful reflection on the challenges associated with protecting Canadian sovereignty. One major concern, from the author’s perspective, is the potential for Canadians to become complacent in asserting and defending our sovereignty in the context of a global environment in transition. In this respect, the author considers the issue from the perspective of a senior military decision maker who has the responsibility to put into “practice” the establishment and actualization of Canadian sovereignty. The chapter thus explores particular challenges facing Canadian military leaders, such as the necessary intersection between political direction, which is often wide-ranging and elusive, and policy elaboration and implementation by DND: operating in Canada’s difficult geography; coordinating with Canadian allies; asserting sovereignty in a multi-domain environment in flux, especially with respect to intelligence, cyber warfare, and space; and procurement. In Chapter 2, Jean-Christophe Boucher focuses on Canadian political elites and examines how politicians have framed sovereignty issues during House of Commons debates since 2001. Using machine learning, the author effectively measures political narrative on Canadian sovereignty and identifies two competing “visions.” On the one hand, some political elites frame Canadian sovereignty as the capacity of the government to control and defend territorial integrity. On the other hand, some policymakers understand sovereignty in broader terms as the capacity of Canada to act with autonomy and purpose in world affairs. The author finds partisanship and whether members of parliament are affiliated with the government or the opposition to be strong predictors of how elites view Canadian sovereignty. The third chapter, written by Heather Exner-Pirot, analyses the relationship between Indigenous people, with their innovative governance arrangements and political self-determination, and Canadian Arctic sovereignty. The chapter explores the role that Indigenous—and specifically Inuit—rights play in reinforcing or challenging Canadian Arctic sovereignty claims. The author argues for a pan-Arctic sovereignty conceptualization where devolution and Inuit consent are constitutive, and not obstructive, to Canadian sovereignty in the North, and a means to achieve well-being, prosperity, and self-determination. The second arc of the book regroups chapters that address specifically the issue of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. The fourth chapter, by Kristin Bartenstein, examines the legal dimension of territorial sovereignty. The author argues that a central difficulty of any debate on this topic is the absence of an overarching consensus on key conceptual understanding of issues of sovereignty, especially amongst legal scholars and political scientists. This equivocalness complicates significantly how Canadians discuss sovereignty in the Arctic. In her chapter, the author analyses the legal concept of state sovereignty before moving on to discuss some of the more contentious legal issues of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, including the uncertainties surrounding Arctic maritime borders, the legal status of the Northwest Passage, and the extent of Canada’s authority over its Arctic waters. Chapter 5, a contribution by political scientist Elizabeth Riddell-Dixon, considers the matter of the Arctic seabed and, more specifically, the efforts by Canada to establish coastal state jurisdiction over its extended continental shelf (ECS). The paper makes two arguments. First, she maintains that a traditional concept of state sovereignty remains paramount. Second, contrary to popular perceptions that competition for Arctic resources is causing conflict among sovereign states, the delineation of Arctic ECSs has been marked by high levels of cooperation. The standpoints proposed in the three chapters by Exner-Pirot, Bartenstein, and Riddell-Dixon allow us to better understand the complexity of the political, legal, and economic ramifications of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and reveal the richness of the intellectual debate on the issue. The third arc of the book examines emerging challenges to Canadian sovereignty. Chapter 6, by Frédéric Lasserre, Olga V. Alexeeva, and Lin Yan Huang, assesses the commercial and strategic implications of climate change and, more specifically, how melting sea ice in the Arctic has instigated Chinese interest in the region. Interestingly, China has now developed an Arctic strategy and has described itself as a “near Arctic” state. As such, China appears to have reached some international recognition that it should be involved in the governance of Arctic issues. Furthermore, China has expressed its interest in Arctic’s natural resources and maritime transportation potential. Nevertheless, the authors argue that it does not, in itself, represent a threat to territorial claims by Arctic nations like Canada. The final chapter, written by Colonel Kevin Bryski (Retired), focuses on Canadian sovereignty interest in space. The author considers specifically how the Canadian Armed Forces has expended its responsibility to defend Canada’s sovereignty with key space systems such as GPS, SATCOM, and surveillance from and of space. As the defence policy document Strong, Secure, Engaged, published by the Trudeau government in 2017, clearly stated, Canada needs to invest more resources in order to defend and protect space capabilities. As the author suggests, given the projected global increase in space activity and areas of growing risks, the mission to defend and protect space capabilities will require increased attention. In addition to enhancing capabilities, international efforts must continue to reinforce accepted norms in space to address emerging challenges in a congested, competitive and contested environment. In this respect, the RCAF will remain the key institution responsible for advancing space capabilities to further enhance sovereignty operations in the areas of improved SATCOM availability as well as coverage and enhanced surveillance of and from space. This exercise reflects a willingness of participants from different sectors of Canadian society— academia, private sector, and military—to bridge the gap between theoretical and methodological rigour with policy relevance. It is only through cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary dialogue that we can hope to address such an elusive but pervasive phenomenon as state sovereignty. However, despite such efforts, it appears clear at the conclusion of this project that encouraging and elevating public conversation on Canadian sovereignty will require further collaboration. Readers should see this book as a first step in acknowledging the importance and challenges of sovereignty for Canadians and, hopefully, encourage future work and discussion on the issue.