Expanding Rangers key to improving Arctic security, says former military commander

Rangers in formation in Yukon earlier this year. Walter Semianiw, a retired Lieutenant-General with the Canadian Command, says they could be the key to improving security in the Arctic. (Chris Macintrye/CBC - image credit)
Rangers in formation in Yukon earlier this year. Walter Semianiw, a retired Lieutenant-General with the Canadian Command, says they could be the key to improving security in the Arctic. (Chris Macintrye/CBC - image credit)

If Canada wants to improve Arctic security and sovereignty, it should seriously consider providing more logistical support and military training to Canadian Rangers in the North, according to a former high-ranking military commander.

Walter Semianiw, a retired Lieutenant-General with the Armed Forces, warned the federal parliamentary defence committee on Thursday that awareness of what's happening in the Arctic continues to be a weakness for Canada when it comes to asserting sovereignty in the region.

He then said that expanding the existing Canadian Ranger force could be a solution.

"The Canadian Rangers do amazing work … but the support that they receive, to be fair, in terms of training, equipment, and logistics needs to be improved dramatically for the Rangers to be prepared to detect a modern threat and respond to it," Semianiw said.

There are currently 2,000 Rangers, mostly volunteers, located in 65 communities throughout Nunavut, the N.W.T., Yukon, and northern B.C. They make up the first Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year). Part of the Canadian Armed Reserves, their responsibilities include surveillance, sovereignty patrols, search and rescue and disaster relief, and training up Armed Forces with survival skills.

Steve Fischer/CBC News
Steve Fischer/CBC News

Given more equipment and resources, Semianiw said, they would be able to exert an even more robust presence to aid in their mission as the "eyes and ears" of the Arctic.

"It comes back to what's the need," he said. "If you look at it from a logistics perspective…[Rangers are] provided with very limited support. They provide their own skidoos, and they're reimbursed in part. It's not ideal. If they could improve that, that would improve the capability of what the Rangers could do in the North."

Semianiw also suggested using unmanned medium and large drones to assist the Canadian Rangers in detecting incoming on-land threats. Such drones have been used in the North before, but are not currently a part of the military's regular inventory.

Investing in Arctic communities important, too

As international interest in the region grows and Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, security and sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic have become increasingly hot-button topics on the national stage.

In June, the Liberal government announced a $4.9 billion funding package over the next six years to modernize NORAD, while a Senate committee travelled across the northern N.W.T. and Nunavut in October to research security and defence projects.

Yet equally as important in upgrading defences in the Arctic is investing in the communities that live there, Semianiw added.

"There's a lot going on across the North that I think the government can look into, invest into, aside from the military," he said. "Canadians also live in the North. Most Canadians that live in the South don't seem to think about that much. They are Canadians, and they need our support.

"How do you do that? Economically, building infrastructure, supporting socially what's going on in the North [and] promoting it, ensuring that it does remain unique in the many ways that it is."