The Canadian North is the least defended territory on earth

Never mind the Amazon, or even the Antarctic. Northern Canada is the global epitome of undefended territory.



There is no place on earth as poorly defended as the Canadian Arctic. But maybe that’s a good thing. We do enjoy pretending to be a nation of “peacekeepers” (in spite of the fact we currently do less peacekeeping than say, El Salvador or Gambia). Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach, Kapyong, Panjwaii: these are places typically not mentioned in polite company, and almost never spoken aloud by a Liberal government. When we talk about arming our military, we don’t even like to use the word “arm”—we say “procurement.”

So, perhaps it is fitting that the Canadian North is essentially the largest military-free zone in the world. To be fair, it is not utterly bereft of Canadian Forces. We have three very small bases. There are some radar installations (that use 1980s technology). There are the Rangers, of course, local volunteers who are given Second World War rifles, a hoodie, a ball cap and an annual photo op with whichever politician is shameless enough to fly north for 24 hours to emote about the Canadian North from the depths of his or her $1,200 Canada Goose parka. Our largest icebreaker— built in 1969—is currently undergoing it’s seventh refit. And, we have approximately 120 armed forces personnel, just enough to fill a Tim Hortons. All of this, of course, is spread over an area the size of Europe (except the icebreaker—it’s in Halifax).

The list of what we don’t have is considerably longer. There is no port, military or civilian. The closing of Churchill last year ended the fatuous notion that Canada has a third coast. No airbase. No search-and-rescue hub. No four-season ice-breakers. No ice-strengthened war-ships. In fact, our fleet is now so small and so rusted out it has lost the designation of being a “blue-water navy”, it is a coastal defence force—on calm days—if everything is working.

If you ask around Ottawa why this is, the answer is and always has been, “Because it’s hard.” Which is true. The Canadian North is remote, wild, undeveloped, like the Russian North for example. Facing a similar climate and geography, Moscow has only managed to build two infantry bases; nine naval ports; and seventeen airbases along its Arctic coast over the last 60 years.

RELATED: Putin, Trudeau and Canada’s Arctic problem

But the Canadian Arctic is more remote and difficult to access than Russia’s. It is more like the Amazonian rainforest—an expanse of jungle and swamp 25 per cent larger than the Canadian North. The Brazilians have almost nothing there, other than the Manaus Air Base, home to four air squadrons, and an airborne army battalion. And there are several naval facilities, including the Rio Negro naval base, 1,300km up the Amazonian river. That base has nine satellite facilities, as well as a helicopter squad and marines. The Brazilians also have a fleet of large riverine hospital ships that ply the remote backwoods of the jungle. But that’s it.

But the Brazilians spend 2.6 per cent of their GDP on the military. The economic choices of our political leaders have always been less guns and more butter (supply-managed, thank you). Regardless of our formal obligations to NATO that we spend two per cent on the Canadian Forces, our defence budget comes in at half that.

We have much more in common with Australia, a commonwealth democracy, managing a constant political struggle to maintain social services and infrastructure spending. It makes sense that we would be careful about our military deployments, frugal even. Consider how the Australian’s have chosen to defend the Outback. Other than a huge naval base in Darwin, and several air squadrons at the RAAF Tindal, another couple of air bases, a dozen training bases, an infantry battalion, and large radar installations at Alice Springs and elsewhere, the place is empty.

Even in Antarctica, at the bottom of the world, owned by no country, needing no defence, and subject to a treaty prohibiting military activity, there are dozens of research bases run by the armed forces of countries like Chile, Uruguay and even Pakistan. The search and rescue capabilities of McMurdo Station alone are greater than all of Canada’s north of the 60th parallel.

No, if you want to get away from it all, to go somewhere on the planet where no one will be able to rescue you—or stop you, or even know you’re there—you want Canada’s North.

But try to keep this quiet. We don’t want it overrun by adventure tourists. Or cruise ships like the Crystal Serenity, which went through last summer bringing its own rescue ship because Canada didn’t have one. Or resource companies, now free to roam over ice-free waters. Or the Chinese, who want to start sending cargo ships and oil tankers through on their way to Europe. Or the Russians, who are increasingly overflying NATO territory. Or our American allies, who announced in Congress this week they will not recognize Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.

No, let’s follow the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, who made sure the Arctic was only mentioned twice in the 360 priorities he gave his ministers, and who has bravely avoided drawing any attention to the North—visiting only once since taking office—and who has still not published an Arctic strategy. Let’s just not draw any attention to the fact we’ve utterly abandoned the Canadian North. What could possibly go wrong?


The Canadian North is the least defended territory on earth

  1. No need to worry, our American friends will defend us …oh …wait a minute, not anymore

    • They never did.

      • They never did Emily? Ever hear of NORAD or NATO? I didn’t think so.
        Now in true Emily fashion, unable to respond with facts the personal
        attacks will begin

        • WE are in NATO and NORAD. That’s not them defending us.

          If you’re talking about Russian missiles coming over the pole…..the Americans would shoot them down OVER us. Not much protection there.

          The Americans invaded Canada 5X. The only country that has.

          And I was in the air force boyo.

          • Canada has an air force?

  2. Like I said…..we’re 90% empty.

    We don’t want it, but we don’t want anybody else to use it either.

  3. “Regardless of our formal obligations to NATO that we spend two per cent on the Canadian Forces, our defence budget comes in at half that.”

    O, to be a Canadian soldier! A nice uniform to wear, good pay, and little chance of having to go to a real war.

  4. I blame the Yanks.

    But…I am one.

    Okay, I blame the public-school teachers.

    And fluoride.

    And George Bush.

  5. Not to worry…

    Canada will be right up there to defend our territory with piper cub aircrafts, 3 soldiers, 2 rifles and one bullet.

    However, not so sure about our submarines as they seem to be out of commission 90% of the time…

  6. Here’s a thought folks….learn how to play nice in the sandbox.

  7. Don’t worry! Our rubber raft will be patched soon and our solder will be back from maternity leave soon. So we’ll be back in action.

    • Who’s attacking us?

      War should only be in self-defence.

  8. Again, Gilmour hands in a stellar article. Googles some stats, puts zero deep thought into what he’s writing, and gets paid/published. Unbelievable.
    It’s always the same group, basically that comments in this section. We should ignore the aforementioned writer and discuss other issues; like how prof. Jordan Peterson is not the “controversial” one. In mainstream news that’s what he’s labelled as. He’s normal, and smart. The SJWs and protesters are the controversial ones. Mainstream media is reckless and conniving.

  9. I enjoy humour more than the average person but when the U.S. and China (especially China) have stated that they do not recognize Canada’s sovereignty of the Northwest Passage, we should get off our butts and seriously do something. There simply is not enough time to just wait for the next general election.
    Note; China’s statement relates to its own invasive tactics in the so-called South China Sea.

  10. There is so much dangerous ice up there; multi-layer (old ice that hasn’t melted through summer), as well as new ice, there’s no line up of ships looking to slip through. And regarding Gilmour’s claim of the US not acknowledging our sovereignty, there’s a history behind that. International straight or internal waters? International courts involved in similar scenarios. But that’s Gilmour’s shtick; reckless statements without research just to get an article submitted. China has at least informed us when passing. Even though I’m no China fan (decimating Africa), there’s really no concern there. Terrorists, really? It’s easy enough for them to get in through more hospitable crossings. They may be crazy, but they’re not stupid.

  11. Currently there is no need for more than 120 soldiers on ground in the North. What this article fails to inform readers is that 4 Wing Cold Lake, geographically is extremely close to the North and the Canadian Forces can deploy very quickly if a situation should arise. There are also very active and large bases other than 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta including CFB Edmonton, CFB/ASU Wainwright which can deploy soldiers into the North very quickly. Lastly 4 Wing Cold Lake serves as a North defender as it houses tactical fighter squadrons such as the 409 TAC SQN which can scramble CF-18 jets to the North within minutes and have many times each and every month.