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Canada's North at risk for terrorism, human trafficking

Canada must not ignore the struggles of its isolated northern communities as it works to solidify the country's Arctic security, a new report urges.

The country needs a "comprehensive threat and vulnerability assessment" that not only examines northern vulnerability to threats like terrorism and illegal shipping, but also investigates how economic development can influence security, the Conference Board of Canada suggests in Security in Canada's North: Looking Beyond Arctic Sovereignty.

The security of the vast northern stretches of the country has gained importance in recent years, as diamonds and hydrocarbons show economic potential while the retreating polar ice cap opens shipping routes. An intelligence assessment uncovered last week said organized crime and human traffickers have already attempted Arctic forays.

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But the Conference Board suggests Canada look beyond establishing military sovereignty and consider instead the well-being of northerners, something the report terms "community security."

That means working to protect northerners from "the widest possible range of threats and hazards," author Bjorn Rutten wrote.

"To those living in the North, security concerns are likely to focus on the capacity of communities to meet the basic needs of their inhabitants and to become more resilient."

Parts of the North continue to confront a lack of work, poor housing, high crime rates and the difficulties of providing good roads, water, education and health to isolated outposts. When industrial projects like new mines are approved, community infrastructure is often not upgraded to support the increased activity.

And in a part of the country where the elements are fierce, help usually comes from Trenton, Ont., which is roughly the same distance from Canadian Force Station Alert, on Ellesmere Island, as it is from Bogota, Colombia.

It is these issues that pose the "greatest threats to the security and resilience of Canada's northern communities," Mr. Rutten finds.

Some believe the greatest threats to the North are from outside, and we need a military to protect against rogue tankers or terrorists. But Rob Huebert, associate director of the University of Calgary's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, said Canada should be asking not only how it can hold onto the North, but why.

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"Everything we're doing in preparation for the new Arctic that's arriving on our doorstep - we're doing it in the context of preparing it for the betterment of Canadians, and in particular northern Canadians," he said.

The North has recently found itself the object of much federal attention. Yet funding has yet to materialize to build a long slate of pledged projects, such as ice-strengthened navy ships, a deep-sea port on Baffin Island, an Arctic army training centre and a Far North research centre.

Still, the Harper government has created a Northern Economic Development Agency and "the Prime Minister himself has been talking about the importance of social and economic development as a component of Canada's northern strategy," said Michael Byers, global politics and international law chair at the University of British Columbia.

But, he said, Ottawa has been loath to dedicate the kind of funds that would help alleviate problems with housing and education in places like Nunavut, where strides in Inuktitut-language instruction could enable a more prosperous future. Even a multibillion-dollar investment would pale compared to the value of northern Canada's resources, he said.

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