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Focus on 'community security' in Canada's North: new report urges

The fundamental welfare of Canada's northern communities is at risk as the federal government focuses its Arctic strategy on military might and diplomatic discourse, suggests a new report.

The publication, released Monday by the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, says any discussion on northern security must be expanded to include the concept of "community security."

The report, which covers a wide swath of security concerns, says a deeper understanding of local issues is needed before Canada can address the "greatest threats to the security and resilience" of the North.

"One big thing we’re trying to achieve is to change the conversation," said Gilles Rheaume, vice-president of public policy and the Conference Board executive for the centre.

"Defence and diplomacy is an important part of our Arctic security, but for Canada’s North, it has to become much broader than that."

The report points out that northerners worry more about protecting basic necessities essential to sustaining their communities than sovereignty debates or international policy issues. Concerns over housing, health services, suicide rates, socio-economic development and public safety were paramount.

"It’s a question of survival," said Rheaume. "We shouldn't omit the basic needs of northerners to feel secure, safe from an economic, social and environmental point of view."

The report, titled "Security in Canada's North — Looking Beyond Arctic Sovereignty," developed the concept of community security based on a range of interviews with experts and northern residents.

A year in the making, the report sorts discussion into three key areas — the big-picture Arctic security, the mid-level northern security and the least researched community security — all of which it says must be equally addressed.

The paper explains that those who actually inhabit Canada's North — as opposed to those who simply debate it — refer to the community, not the individual or nation, as the main focus of living a secure life.

"We need to develop a deeper understanding of what is happening," said Rheaume.

He added that the centre will work on recommendations on how to improve community security, which includes the development of a set of indicators that can assess the security needs and resilience of a community.

The report pays heed to the wealth of research on the already well-understood concept of Arctic security, which deals with legal, sovereignty and policy challenges facing the North.

Meanwhile, the mid-level concept of northern security — described as "the resilience of people, infrastructure and their protection from the widest range of threats and hazards" — is flagged as an area that requires more development.

But the report points out the ability for northerners to actually feel safe at the most local level remains a challenge.

"Part of Canada's future will have to be the North because of the opportunities that exist there, which means that greater attention will have to be paid to northerners as well," said Rheaume.

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