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CASR – Canadian American Strategic Review –
Canadian Sovereignty – Search & Rescue
– SAR Treaty – June 2011
Aerial SAR — the Arctic Council and The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime
Search and Rescue in the Arctic — Part 1
On 12 May 2011, Canada signed on to an Arctic Council treaty aimed at increasing cooperation on search and
rescue among the eight member nations: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian
Federation, Sweden, and the United States. Since former Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, had lost his
seat in the Federal election, signing on behalf of Canada was the Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq,
appropriately also the MP for Nunavut.
This new multilateral SAR treaty was signed at an Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Nuuk, capital
of Greenland. As Ms Aglukkaq put it in a Foreign Affairs press release: "This legally
binding agreement underscores the capacity of the Council to address emerging Arctic issues." Indeed, and in signing
the treaty Canada is now obliged to meet its Arctic SAR responsibilities. That includes maritime search and
rescue which invariable brings up the state of the Canadian Coast Guard's aged Arctic icebreakers. Here we will
focus on aerial SAR in the Canadian Arctic.
Status Quo Ante Tractatus – Current State of Aerial Search and Rescue in
At present, Canada's sole, full-time fleet of SAR aircraft based north of 60° consists of four CC-138 Twin Otters based at Yellowknife.
Originally, 440 ( T ) Squadron was a dedicated SAR unit but that was before the squadron was moved north.
Today, the remaining 'Twotters' fly as transports and have given up their ability to operate on
floats.  Flying support for the Canadian Rangers and other CF personnel in the Arctic is now the key role for
CC-138s. Search and rescue is now a secondary role. 
The situation for the Canadian Forces rotary-wing SAR is even more dire. Not a single helicopter, SAR or other- wise,
is permanently based north of 60°. The CF has 14 Italian-built CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopters but all are based on the East or West coast. 
Trenton's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre may well be responsible for High Arctic SAR but Trenton-based 424 (T&R)
Sqn has long since given up its Coromorants. Of three CH-149 squadrons, only 442 at Comox
is north of the 49th Parallel. The Coromorant need its range! 
The remaining, dedicated CF SAR aircraft are the CH-146 Griffon utility helicopter formerly used for airbase
recovery; and a pair of aged fixed-wing transport aircraft, the CC-130H Hercules and CC-115 Buffalo. Replacing the latter is the purpose of
DND's drawn-out Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project. And
FWSAR is the clue as to why the Canadian government was eager to sign a binding SAR treaty whose terms it can't
currently meet. But first we should look at that treaty.
Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in
Canada loves signing treaties and joining international organizations. The Arctic Council itself springs from a
1996 Ottawa Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council. Montreal is the headquarters
location for both the UN's ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and for industry group IATA
(International Air Transport Association). We yum this stuff up.
The Arctic Council is outside the UN. The Council's purpose was to bring together government representatives from
"Arctic States" to address common interests while taking into account the rights of the indigenous peoples and
other residents of the Arctic. From the outset, the Council was meant to promote "cooperation, coordination and
interaction." Obviously an agreement on SAR fits neatly within that. That the new SAR treaty is binding startled
some who assumed the Council would yet another toothless 'talking shop'. Perhaps a benefit of being outside
As noted above, "The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic"
binds eight member nations of the Arctic Council. In this treaty, the entire Arctic Ocean and
neighbouring land masses – including the Scandanavian Baltic – is divided into zones of SAR
responsibility. Terms of responsibility are also itemized. We will examine only the areas of the SAR treaty
which directly effect Canada.
Section quoted directly from the Arctic Council's Agreement on Arctic SAR will appear in grey. For the record, the
geographical boundaries of Canada's region of responsibility are as follows:
Canada – Denmark
The aeronautical and maritime search and rescue regions of Canada and Denmark shall be delimited by a continuous
line connecting the following coordinates:
82°00'00"N, 060°00'00"W; and
Thence north to the North Pole.
Canada – United States of America
The aeronautical and maritime search and rescue regions of Canada and the United States of America shall be
delimited by a continuous line connecting the following coordinates:
54°42'30"N, 130°36'30"W; and
Beaufort Sea and thence to the North Pole.
"Is my name in there?" Terms of the Treaty and the New Canadian Arctic SAR Obligations
The terms of the Treaty itself builds on UNCLOS – the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea, despite the United States having yet to ratify that Convention. All SAR Treaty signatories are
also party to the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue signed in Hamburg and
the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation signed in Chicago which led to the formation of
Montreal-based ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).
The challenges and difficulties of Arctic SAR is taken as read in the preamble of the Treaty. So too is the
need for "rapid assistance to persons in distress in such conditions", especially with the increased traffic
being experienced in the Arctic. To that end, the Treaty emphasizes member cooperation for Arctic search and rescue
operations as well as for joint training exercises. Much of this is already practice. The point of the SAR
Treaty is to formalize members' responsibilities.
Under Article 1 (Terms and Definitions), the "territory of a Party" is defined as "the land area of a State, its
internal waters and its territorial sea, including the airspace above those areas." Any mention of "internal
waters and ... territorial sea" will immediately bring Canada's key territorial disputes with the US to
mind. But this is quickly deflected by Article 3 (Scope of Application of this Agreement) which states that "The
delimitation of [SAR] regions is not related to and shall not prejudice the delimitation of [a member State's]
boundary... sovereign rights or jurisdiction."
For Canada and its current state of aerial SAR preparedness, the kicker comes later in Article 2:
3. Each Party shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and
effective search and rescue capability within its area as set forth in paragraph 2 of the Annex ...
That area, of course, is the vast region of Canada's Arctic region delineated above. Canada has now committed itself
to respond rapidly and effectively in a region that it barely has an official SAR presence in. Within the
Treaty's annex, Canada's Competent Authority for SAR is listed as the Minister of National Defence. Other
Council members list civilian agencies – unless the US Coast Guard is seen as a military institution.
As Rescue Coordination Centre, Canada lists JRCC Trenton which is located astonishingly far south from Arctic SAR
operations at 44°7'N latitude.
Southern Comfort... or... why Canada thinks it can do Arctic SAR from below the 49th Parallel
The only other Treaty signatory with a Rescue Coordination Centre south of 60° is Sweden (at JRCC
Goteborg, 57°43'N). Another signatory which has no Arctic shoreline is Finland. But even there, MRCC Turku sits at
60°30' N. As to our immediate Arctic neighbours, Denmark maintains RCC Søndrestrøm in
Greenland at 67°0' N, the US has ARCC Elmendorf at 61°15' N. So why does Canada believe it can meet
SAR obligations in the Arctic? There is only two possible answers.
Article 7 (Conduct of Aeronautical and Maritime Search & Rescue Operations) has emphasized cooperation by sharing the
burden of Arctic SAR between bordering Arctic Council countries:
3 (b) if a search and rescue agency ... receives information that any person is,
or appears to be, in distress, [they] shall take urgent steps to ensure that the necessary assistance
That's clear enough. The burden falls on responsible SAR agencies ... but they can ask for help.
3 (d) the search and rescue agency ... that has received information concerning [ persons who
are, or appear to be, in distress in the Arctic ] may request assistance from the other
In other words, Canada can temporarily dodge paying for its round and let the neighbours pick up the tab. The
trouble with absenting yourself when the bill arrives is that, eventually, all your buddies notice. The best case
scenario is gaining some time to scrounge loose change. Then it really is time to pay. And that is where the Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue Project
pops up again.
We'll show the link between signing this Treaty and the FWSAR Project in Arctic SAR Part 2.
 It was judged that the CC-138 Twin Otter could fulfill its Arctic utility transport role without
continuing the use of floats. The Twin Otter was the last CF aircraft equipped with floats. There were
obvious cost-savings in CF pilots no longer needing float qualifications. But in eliminating floats, CC-138 can
no longer perform open-water rescues on Northern lakes or the Arctic Ocean.
 True for any available military aircraft. The difference is one of specialized equipment carried.
 CH-149 SAR helicopters are operated by 442 Transport & Rescue Sqn CFB (CFB Comox, BC, 49°43'N) with CC-115 Buffalo FWSAR; 103 Search & Rescue Sqn (CFB
Gander, NL, 48.9°N); and 413 Transport & Rescue Sqn (CFB Greenwood, NS, 44°59'N ) with
CC-130H Hercules FWSAR.
 By shutting down one of its three engines, the Cormorant can fly 1000 km unrefuelled. This is short of
any likely Arctic destination. At economical cruising speed – and not accounting for refuelling stops – a
CH-149 would take over 3 hours to fly from Comox to Whitehorse (1380 km); 4 hours from Gander to Iqaluit (1850km)
and over 4.5 hours from Greenwood to Iqaluit (2100 km).
CASR | Arctic Futures | Background | Modest Proposal
| In Detail | Editorials