Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue No. 5 - Evidence - June 7, 2016


OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 5:33 p.m. to study Maritime Search and Rescue activities, including current challenges and opportunities.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.

The Chair: Good evening. My name is Fabian Manning, a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I'm pleased to chair this evening's meeting.

The committee is continuing its study on maritime search and rescue activities, including current challenges and opportunities. This evening we will be learning about the role of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in coordinating and carrying out maritime search and rescue.

We are pleased to welcome by video conference Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic. On behalf of the members of the committee, I thank you for joining us today, Rear-Admiral.

I understand you have opening remarks. In the interests of allowing as much discussion as possible in the time available to us, I would ask that you take the floor now and give us your remarks. Then we'll open the floor up for questions with senators.

Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic, National Defence: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Senators, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify before the committee. As an operational commander of search and rescue in Canada, it is an honour to be invited to provide you my thoughts on this essential element of Canadian sovereignty.

I have commanded the Halifax Search and Rescue Region since July 2013, and will continue in my post until July 2017. The Halifax Search and Rescue Region encompasses all of the Atlantic provinces, the eastern half of Quebec, the southern half of Baffin Island and a large area of the western North Atlantic Ocean. It is a very large area, one of three search and rescue regions in Canada, and is indicative of the search and rescue effort in our country.

On regional challenges, in 2015, JRCC Halifax coordinated 2,502 SAR cases. Of these, 1,760 were marine cases, 440 were aeronautical and 192 were humanitarian. The most frequent type of marine search and rescue operation is to provide assistance to disabled vessels and medical evacuation of ships' crew members injured or ill at sea.

Under my authority, I authorize patient transfers on humanitarian grounds in support of regional health authorities. This occurs most frequently in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In my region, the distances are long, the weather challenging and the emergency circumstances are often dire. Fortunately, Canadian SAR forces are crewed by exceptional men and women who are passionate in their duties, extremely well-trained and -equipped and have developed formidable experience saving lives.

The region experiences the highest volume of SAR incidents between May and September, the peak period for cruise ships, coastal fisheries, commercial and recreational traffic and adventurer activities. It is also the season when tropical storms are most common.

The winter is the most dangerous for mariners and SAR crews alike. Low-pressure systems churn up the ocean. There is little rest from high winds, rough seas, icing conditions and snow. SAR aircraft routinely reposition to regional airfields to ensure they avoid the worst conditions that would otherwise close their home bases. Survival time in the water for unprotected victims is reduced to minutes.

A constant flow of global commerce to and from the United States passes through this region. Voyaging in the wintertime North Atlantic necessitates storm avoidance in routing through seasonal pack ice. Later in the spring, impenetrable fogs blanket the eastern seaboard, and mariners must navigate with caution past innumerable icebergs. For these reasons, some of the worst maritime disasters have occurred during this season, including the oil rig Ocean Ranger, the jack-up rig Rowan Gorilla I, the fishing vessel Andrea Gail, the oil tanker MV Flare/P3GL2, fishing vessel Melina and Keith II and the fishing vessel Miss Ally, to name but a few.

Along Canada's broad Atlantic continental shelf lies some of the world's most difficult-to-extract energy reserves: Canada's only developed offshore production areas. The oil and gas deposits of offshore Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador demand permanently assigned SAR forces contracted from industry and working in close liaison with federal capabilities.

As much as these massive offshore sites are a constant source of human activity on the high seas, and therefore a SAR concern, they offer a remote base for refueling and to land on for helicopters in the conduct of their SAR duties over the deep ocean. Similarly, new mining activities in the North and the modern merchant ships that service them offer SAR resources in the event of SAR cases in those remote areas.

Cruise ships are now regular visitors to the Atlantic Provinces and increasingly into the North, as highlighted by the planned Northwest Passage transit of the Crystal Serenity in 2016. The passage of thousands of visitors in our coastal waters raises the spectre of a major maritime incident. Increasingly, adventure and ecotourism agents are operating in northern waters where deep fjords, abundant marine life and icebergs are the backdrop of recreational activities.

All this demands the active management of interagency relationships, SAR planning and open lines of communication in order to permit effective response to maritime and aeronautical SAR cases.

On response, JRCC Halifax is responsible for coordinating, controlling and conducting all aeronautical and maritime SAR responses. JRCC Halifax is manned by specialist SAR operators from the Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The centre is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is the nucleus of all East Coast SAR activities. It is co-located with the Marine Security Operations Centre. The centre builds the detailed picture of shipping in the region and aids the SAR first responders to quickly locate their target and communicate with other vessels in proximity to the distress.

Information-sharing and dissemination, and directing a coordinated SAR response employing a wide range of primary, secondary and community-based capabilities is facilitated by the centre's co-location in the primary operational headquarters of the Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic. The joint task force ensures that SAR cases that progress to consequence management are effectively managed with primary maritime and land partners.

In addition to JRCC Halifax, there is one Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre within the Halifax area of responsibility, located in Quebec City, and MRSC Quebec facilitates accurate SAR communication across the predominantly French areas of northern New Brunswick, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the St. Lawrence River. During SAR missions that require air support, MRSC Quebec requests assistance from JRCC Halifax aeronautical coordinators.

SAR dispatchers examine many parameters, including current and future environmental data like temperature, wind, waves and currents. They analyze terrain, distance from the nearest available SAR assets, the severity of the case and other ongoing cases in the region in order to determine the best SAR response.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre then tasks resources, stages sustainment forces for long searches, collaborates with a wide range of community and government agencies and executes the rescue. In consultation with searching forces, other government departments, adjoining search and rescue region commanders and families, decisions are reached to transition to recovery or transfer the case to another lead agency as the rescue phase terminates.

Aeronautical search and rescue assets are provided by 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, flying Hercules aircraft and CH-149 Cormorant helicopters. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander flies the Cormorant helicopter. Search and rescue aircraft and air crew are on 30-minute standby during those hours of peak marine activities and 2-hour standby during quieter evening hours.

The Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for the maritime component of the federal SAR system. Canadian Coast Guard primary search and rescue units are comprised of large multi-task vessels, SAR life boat stations and inshore rescue boats strategically located along the coast. The Inshore Rescue Boat program is operated and maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard, and is located in high recreational areas during the summer season. Warships of the Royal Canadian Navy are frequently asked to provide primary SAR readiness when operating in Atlantic waters.

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer service operated by local mariners and supported by the Canadian Coast Guard. The Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres coordinate marine communications and manage vessel traffic movements. These radio operators work in conjunction with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax by advising mariners of developing SAR cases, which is an integral part of a successful SAR system.

SAR secondary assets, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft and vessels of opportunity play an important role in SAR. At 5 Wing Goose Bay, 444 Squadron maintains a small fleet of Griffin helicopters for local airfield support associated with NATO and national air force training missions executed at the Wing. These aircraft have limited SAR capability and are employed on a case-by-case basis to assist with SAR cases. An emergency transfer of a patient yesterday occurred involving one of these aircraft. It rescued a severely burned member of Hopedale on the Labrador coast and transferred the victim to Goose Bay.

The Canadian SAR system is one of the best in the world, owing to the cooperation and teamwork demonstrated by the network of government and civilian organizations and volunteers that make up the SAR system. SAR works as one component of a bigger system, including the regulation of construction, SAR equipping and crew qualification. Prevention and communications are other components. Volunteerism is an essential element. Bystanders, nearby ships and private and commercial aircraft organize SAR auxiliaries, and community emergency response volunteers are essential to successful search and rescue in Canada.

SAR partners include the Joint Task Force Atlantic and other Canadian Armed Forces elements, Rangers of the Canadian Army, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Public Safety Canada, Transport Canada, Canadian Border Services Agency, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, provincial emergency management offices, Public Health Agency of Canada, Parks Canada and many other Canadian government departments, as well as provincial and municipal delegates.

Foreign interactions occur with authorities of the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the Danish joint Arctic Command and SAR authorities in Portugal and England.

The Halifax Search and Rescue Region shares ocean boundaries with a number of regions, including Boston. The Boston region is a particularly busy zone, and frequent interactions are necessary between JRCC Halifax and JRCC Boston to coordinate a joint U.S.-Canadian response to an emergency.

In addition to these agencies, the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System, Amver, is a close partner in most offshore cases. Participating companies and merchant ships are often on scene quickly, aiding in search efforts, evacuations of persons in peril and providing a lee from the weather or reassurance to stricken vessels.

In the air, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, CASARA, contributes spotters, air crew and aircraft on a voluntary basis to start SAR cases when weather and distances permit. This association is funded by the Department of National Defence and participates in annual SAR training exercises with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

On request, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Halifax will support ground search and rescue operations in support of the RCMP on a case-by-case basis. Considering the vast geography of the Halifax Search and Rescue Region and our frequent callout to support ground search and rescue, engagement by the Canadian Rangers is not an unusual occurrence.

On readiness, SAR technicians maintain readiness through a cycle of constant training for real-life, all-season scenarios in the marine and land environments. SAR techs are part of the SAR aircraft crew and must do air crew training as well as formal SAR training in Comox, British Columbia. This is in addition to upgrade training in the survival and medical specializations. The national search and rescue exercise in 2014 took place in Goose Bay, Newfoundland and was hosted by 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander.

For their part, the Canadian Coast Guard hosted the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum in 2014 and culminated their year of chairmanship with GUARDEX 2014, showcasing SAR tactics and interagency cooperation in a two-day SAR event.

In order to maintain the preparedness, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and its partners, particularly Joint Task Force Atlantic and the Canadian Coast Guard, carry out regular training scenarios. Training is robust and committed to exercising the capability and skills of all partners to ensure that members of the SAR system are a strong and well-prepared team.

Operation NANOOK 2014 exercised a major shipping disaster in Frobisher Bay. In 2015, Joint Task Force Atlantic and JRCC Halifax SAR personnel helped plan and execute the SAR response for the Stena IceMAX, a large, offshore drill ship contracted to drill the Shelburne Basin off Nova Scotia.

This concludes my introductory remarks, and I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you, rear-admiral. Once again I apologize for the late start to the meeting this evening due to the fact we were still sitting in the Senate.

Senator Munson: Thank you, rear-admiral, for being with us via video conference.

When you speak, it sounds very impressive. It sounds like that everything is working and that there is a competent Armed Forces out there, with the Coast Guard and others, doing their job. The geography of this country is immense, and I'm curious to know your views.

First of all, just a general question: Do you have enough assets to do the job the way you want the job done in assisting search and rescue?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. From my perspective as a commander, having done the job day-to-day now for three years, I have adequate resources. Where I feel shortages or pressures due to a maintenance issue or due to distance and geography, I have worked out relationships or detailed plans for how to ensure that we take the assets we've been fortunate to have been given and move them into the SAR right away. I have not, to my mind, had a shortcoming in using the equipment and personnel at my disposal to meet an emergent SAR in the region over the last three years.

Senator Munson: Could you elaborate just a bit more on the maintenance issue? How extensive is it? Has it cost millions? Do you have to fly others and experts in to fix aircraft and other military equipment? Just how immense is this maintenance issue you talk about?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Whether you're operating ships or operating aircraft, there is a running maintenance program that you must address. Equipment breaks, from time to time, and the Royal Canadian Air Force has provided enough helicopters at the squadrons in Greenwood and the squadron in Gander, Newfoundland, to manage any breakdowns that might occur in a particular aircraft.

If there is a breakdown in the startup or the flight of an aircraft into a mission, we immediately ask and are given a second resource from one of the two squadrons. It is just the complexity of flying large aircraft; it's not something I worry about. It's just the reality of flying large aircraft.

I would add, sir, that we take zero chance of flying a large helicopter with five crewmen aboard out into the distant ocean or across large expanses of water. We will not add five more victims to a search and rescue. The aircraft are maintained at a very high state. If a weakness develops, the air crew knows to terminate their flight, and I will find a second resource using the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.

Senator Munson: In the past, there has been controversy over Sea King helicopters and their ability to react to — and I know they are a great workhorse — situations of distress in Atlantic Canada. Do you still have concerns over the aging Sea King helicopter?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Sea King helicopters are helicopters used on the Royal Canadian Navy frigates. They, from time to time, are assigned a SAR secondary role if a Cormorant helicopter, in Greenwood in particular, is not serviceable. This is very rare occurrence but, should a search and rescue case occur at sea, a Sea King will be flown from the nearest warship because we'll use any resource of the Canadian Armed Forces if it's proximal to the search and rescue.

I would add, sir, that the Sea Kings are near the end of their life, and the Cyclones have started transitioning into service. From my windows I watch the Cyclones operate daily with the fleet from HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax. I look forward, like everybody in Canada, to the day when our venerable Sea King terminates over 50 years of service and the Cyclone starts its long period of duty to Canada.

Senator Munson: Well, that's good news. It beats seeing a Sea King landing in a schoolyard and the sort of thing that we have seen in the past not so long ago, but that's yesterday's story. We're talking about today's story.

Just to change the subject of conversation a wee bit, how involved are you with the Canadian Rangers? We all, in the South, applaud the Canadian rangers for what they do in the North, but you seem so far away. You have talked about cruise ships going through. We're talking about countries staking out their claim to the North. We're talking about the issues of distress in the North and the distances that the Armed Forces has to travel.

In some of our prepared notes it is said that the Canadian Rangers provide patrols and detachments for national security and public safety. It talks about the Canadian Armed Forces' role in this. Is this really enough to have the Rangers in the North and not to have a stronger presence of the Canadian military, both in rescue and in protecting our national security?

Rear-Admiral Newton: I'm very intimately engaged with the Canadian Rangers. They are an army activity, but there are Canadian Rangers across Newfoundland and Labrador. There are many hundreds of them. I often will turn to my deputy joint task force commander, who is the commander of 5th Division, and ask for the support of Rangers in particular coastal activities. Often, in ground search and rescue cases that we are drawn into, they have already been implicated by the local communities.

But, sir, I would say that, from Newfoundland and Labrador and all the way into the Arctic, the Canadian Rangers are a very formidable force for sovereignty for Canada. They are not an armed service for National Defence, but they are key eyes and ears in the Canadian hinterlands. That is just one activity of the Canadian Armed Forces in the North.

Since about 2002, you have watched a very robust level of activity by the Canadian Armed Forces in the North in events like Operation QIMMIQ, Operation NUNALIVUT, Operation NUNAKPUT and Operation NANOOK. As the Maritime Component Commander for the Royal Canadian Navy, I deploy patrol ships North every year and join the Canadian Coast Guard with their annual patrol activities. I think, with the building of the Arctic offshore patrol ship and its capability married to the Cyclone helicopter, Canada is implementing a very good Canadian Armed Forces element to Northern sovereignty and security, sir.

Senator Munson: Thank you. Rear-Admiral, you're appearing before this Fisheries Committee. We are talking about air, sea and rescue and helping people in distress. You talked about the humanitarian work. You're saying a lot of good things. That's very important, but surely there must be something you want to make your job a little better.

There is a brand new government. There is a brand new minister on every level. It's an opportunity, I would think, for the Armed Forces to publicly ask for something that would make your life easier. Surely there is something there you want to tell us.

Rear-Admiral Newton: It's a very good question, senator. I am thrilled with a lot of the programs that are being implemented through the National Shipbuilding Strategy: the movement toward the delivery of a fixed-wing SAR aircraft, the building of the Arctic offshore patrol ship and the delivery of the Cyclone helicopter. These will all to contribute to the sovereignty element that is search and rescue.

I build a picture, on a daily basis, using a multitude of tools, through the Marine Security Operations Centres. Anything that Canada can deliver to increase the fidelity of surveillance and precision in the offshore, like what will be provided through RADARSAT and the RADARSAT Constellation mission, both programs moving through Defence procurement and Government of Canada procurement, are thrilling pieces of news.

The other side of search and rescue, sir, is education, prevention and public confidence. I think there is, in all three of these areas, work to be done. We work in these areas and, no matter what the industrial or work domain you are in, they are constants. You can never stop doing them. There is always a new generation to educate. There is always public confidence to be maintained. If I needed any help, it was in those areas of prevention, education about search and rescue, and public confidence.

Senator McInnis: Thank you, rear-admiral, for appearing this evening. We're not here to criticize. We're here to uncover any challenges that may surround search and rescue. I just wanted to come back to the Canadian Rangers for a moment. We always hear great things about them. Are they properly trained to do maritime search and rescue? Do they have the marine capabilities?

Rear-Admiral Newton: You may have in your mind the vision of the Rangers of the High Arctic, which are more land-based, but they are excellent sailors too. They have their family boats and the like. I'm not really referring to them when I talk about any kind of marine search and rescue in the coastal waters.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the Rangers populate the coastal communities. Often, we exercise with them in coastal and surveillance scenarios with search and rescue aspects.

They have their own boats. These are 30- to 60-foot fishing boats that Newfoundland designs, and they are very effective in coastal patrol, working with the joint task force and the Canadian Army.

The Canadian Rangers are an activity of the Canadian Army, and any commentary on how well trained they are should be answered by the Canadian Army. My own personal opinion — I haven't worked with them frequently — is they are very well trained in domains of ice, land movements, field craft and the coastal activities in Newfoundland and Labrador. These are the main methods of transportation along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts.

Senator McInnis: Coming back to the North, it would appear to me that most of your equipment is not up North; it's in the lower part of Canada. Does that present a challenge? How is it that you handle the North? Are there many incidents up there? Is it a challenge to get the equipment there in time?

Rear-Admiral Newton: The North is a very large area with very little infrastructure and the communities are spread out. The maritime access to the Canadian North is very limited in comparison to the Danish North. Ours is a frozen, polar area whereas the Danish west coast, for instance like Greenland, is more temperate, open and free of ice.

You've got these very severe environmental effects where you could potentially or theoretically station a lot of search and rescue assets in the North but find that the weather is a severe restriction to mobility and readiness. We tend to stage in the South. We respond to the summer navigation system and the bloom of activity associated with the change of the ice regime. We have the capability, the major airline disaster kits, ready to be flown away.

We have at our access large helicopters, three-engine, long-range helicopters, the long-range Hercules aircraft, and we start moving and staging crews into the North. While we're doing that, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre is actually communicating with all the maritime and air resources of the North. We have the contact lists, we have the shipping picture, and we effectively bring the community of SAR providers — whether voluntary, proximal, auxiliary, Rangers or community, in addition to the Canadian Armed Forces assets — to bear on the target.

We have had four Arctic cases out of the 20 or so in the last year that were all very successful, and I can list them.

There's Sergey Ananov who crashed his helicopter onto the ice. There was the fishing vessel Atlantic Charger, with nine crew members, in Davis Strait. There was Saputi with 30 crew members that managed to limp into Nuuk, Greenland. Finally, there was the member of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut and his two companions, one of them his son, which were all successfully engaged by JRCC Halifax as Arctic search and rescue, amongst quite a few others of the 20 or so last year, sir.

Senator McInnis: Do you see a role that the private sector could play in search and rescue in Canada, particularly in the North?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. I think we're already operating a bit of a hybrid system in Canada with the offshore oil industry contracting standby capabilities, as was dictated by the Wells commission after the Cougar air crash. Mines and centres of industrial development in the North, by necessity, have to contract aviation capabilities to move their own people, to resupply their facilities and to do any kind of medical evacuation for their large workforces.

There is a case, let's say in the Mary River mine at the northern end of Baffin Island, far from any of the permanent SAR infrastructure that I have, and far from Iqaluit that has its own industrial support provided by contracted services. That's including emergency management for their mine, firefighting and rescue capabilities, airplanes and an airstrip and a seaport.

As much as this might look like up to a thousand people operating in the North and a vulnerability from a search and rescue perspective, I view it as opportunity. It gives me options for search and rescue in the North: there's an airfield, there's a seaport, there's an ability to move a major airline disaster kit in from Trenton into a new location that's just opening up as this mine develops its capacity.

It is the same in northern Labrador at the nickel mine in Kuujjuaq, the Raglan Mine. These are facilities that offer us bed-down points for our aircrew or airfields to use a CC-130 lift to bring in additional resources if there was an air crash in the North. It just gives us these little lily pads around the North to operate from. I see opportunity more than I see risk.

Senator Raine: I really appreciate hearing from you. It's obvious that the communications between the Armed Forces, the Coast Guard and all the search and rescue organizations around Canada is very sophisticated and well centralized. That's pretty necessary.

I'm a bit curious as to how the ears work. If you're out there in the wilderness and you're calling a mayday, how does the message get to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre? Is there anything lacking?

Right now, with new technology coming out and the ability to have satellite communication, I don't know if it's possible to require everyone who goes a long way from their communities to carry locaters and things like that technology. We were informed on the incident with the MLA in Nunavut, and I was shocked to find out that he was not prepared for where he was, and yet they were rescued.

This brings to mind your role in public communication on safety. If you would just comment on that, I will have another question.

Rear-Admiral Newton: That's a really good question, because there are two elements to communications. One is how we physically communicate in the SAR scenario, to raise the alarm or raise the alert that somebody is in trouble? Second, how do we communicate, as a large interagency task force, to effectively coordinate and communicate? There are systems for that.

Finally, how do we communicate the idea of prevention and education to the greater public of Canada so they make smart decisions with regard to equipping and what systems are really useful and I find essential, should we be heading out into the wilderness of Canada.

I think I have to unpack it a bit and say that in an emergency in the maritime domain, there are a number of ways to communicate, but the most common way is the very high frequency radio. Channel 16 is permanently assigned to search and rescue. There are no more electric words, whether given by a captain of a ship or the pilot of a plane, than "mayday, mayday, mayday." It travels for line of sight as powerful as the VHF radio can push it. Generally it's heard by people in proximity, flying aircraft or, in this case, sailing ships.

Similarly, aircrew have a frequency that they call on that all aircraft flying keep tuned into for air-to-air communication to avoid of collisions, so there are these set frequencies.

Then for ships of certain tonnages, by law there are emergency position-indicating beacons, and for airplanes there are emergency locating transmitters that automatically raise a tone in our emergency communication systems. In more modern systems they activate a SARSAT, a search and rescue satellite system, and we get a position on the earth and get the indication that somebody is having an emergency. There is a little bit of concern, in my mind, that Canada has not yet mandated the most modern emergency locating transponder, the 406-megahertz beacon. We still allow an older 121.5-megahertz beacon to be used, and I don't get as much useful information from the old beacon. Slowly Canada's beacon system is modernizing.

Finally, as you mentioned about the MLA in Nunavut, I think most Northern communities — and I'd have to check — have provided, free of charge from their hamlet offices, little spot beacons — personal beacons — that people can activate that communicate with a satellite system and then back to a home office that a hunter, trapper or snowmobiler is in trouble. Increasingly, these are used by people who go into the hinterlands of Canada.

Finally, many people carry cellular or iridium phones that communicate directly with a satellite in space, and you can make a normal phone call across it. You will often see adventurers using these iridium phones because they're posting actively to social media.

There is a host of communication technologies that are used, and only in the worst cases — and I think it's more rare today — do people lack any kind of communication technology. Sadly, that was the case in the Arctic. We had to go by concerned members phoning in that the member hadn't arrived or been heard from. It is a case where people should leave a route plan so that family or supporting staff can notify the RCMP that somebody has failed to arrive as per their route plan.

That's the communication from the emergency.

The bigger communication across the integrated search and rescue family is done by phone; it is done by an information technology system called SARMaster, which is getting old but which is in the full process of getting redeveloped or developed anew by the Government of Canada. Right now, we're in the project-definition phase. The system works for me. I know it is old. I know it has its problems — it is a bit slow when a lot of operators get on it — but it effectively manages search and rescue in Canada and, if need be, we can go back to paper management of the cases.

On the final aspect of communications, I believe we could do a better job with SAR prevention, but I'm not the authority for that. It is a shared responsibility with other agencies, but as a search and rescue provider I do not hesitate to work in the SAR-prevention domain. We go to communities frequently. We participate in fisheries associations and fairs in the coastal communities. The search and rescue squadrons bring their helicopters and personnel.

Whenever we're doing any kind of military exercise, we'll often meet with municipal authorities and emergency response members, and we reaffirm with them the communication structures that we use and the educational elements of search and rescue, like positive-buoyancy life jackets, immersion suits, personal beacons and other tools like flares that are very handy at keeping people alive and ensuring rescue as quickly as possible.

Senator Raine: I'm from a mountain environment in the ski industry, and we often have a lot of skiers going out of bounds and sometimes they get into trouble. We had an amazing incident where some young people went out of bounds and had to spend the night on the mountain. They video recorded each other saying goodbye to their families because they thought they would die.

When they were eventually found, the authorities told them they had a penalty to pay. They had to speak to most of the schools in the district about what they did wrong. It was a tremendous learning opportunity. I would say it was probably another 10 years before we had kids making those same mistakes. That was very valuable.

I sort of went off topic there, but would you care to comment on your thoughts around cruise ships going through the Northwest Passage?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, ma'am. It's a great point. Human activity is slowly increasing in the North, and there is a tendency for money to buy recreation, adventure and extreme sports. This is increasingly being witnessed in our North.

Cruise passengers have been visiting the North for quite a few years. At first they were riding on chartered Russian icebreakers or chartered Academy of Sciences ships like the Akademik Ioffe the Sergey Vavilov or the Kapitan Khlebnikov — big ships purpose-built for the North.

There is a whole other variety of cruise ships purpose-built for the North that has been cruising for a few years. You'll hear names like the MS Hanseatic, and ships of that nature, built for Northern cruising. But they only hold 200 to 500 passengers, let's say.

Most recently, we hear of the Crystal Serenity. It's a ship that voyages the Alaska coast, and it is a cruise to Antarctica. It is a cruise ship proper. It has a certain degree of ice rating, and it has been planning for two years now to transit the Northwest Passage, which will be a first where we have 1,200 passengers and about to 200 to 300 or more crew members on board. I think the total number of people on board will be somewhere between 1,500 and 1,700 people.

In this regard, having been given fair notice, the Arctic Council has worked through a series of tabletop and live exercises, Arctic Zephyr and Arctic Chinook, working between coast guard districts in Alaska, Joint Task Force North, the Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Danish joint Arctic Command, to plan the consequence management pieces of a cruise liner in the Canadian North. The threats are potential grounding, potential search and rescue or medical evacuation.

In this instance, besides our planning, the cruise line industry itself, the ship's owner or charterer is contracting a standby vessel, just like oil rigs contract standby vessels, to facilitate any kind of rescue that is required during the ship's transit of the Northwest Passage. In any mind, this is probably a very thorough plan — far more than we've witnessed with the regular cruise line industry that is plying the North.

I hope that answers your question, ma'am.

Senator Raine: So when they're going through, you'll be crossing your fingers? Are you pretty confident there won't with a problem?

Rear-Admiral Newton: No, I am a watcher of ship activities in the North. I am a partner in the Marine Security Operations Centre that is headquartered in Halifax. I have partners in the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canada Border Services Agency and Transport Canada — I think I got them all.

We actually watch the Arctic and we watch all shipping. We watch for the planned transit of vessels, whether in the Arctic or the Atlantic, to what they're actually doing. We watch them as they pass through sensitive areas, like marine protected areas, and pass sites like the HMS Erebus, which is a protected heritage site. We watch their starts and stops along the coast — maybe at an abandoned whaling station or in a community. We communicate through the agencies I mentioned to keep our eyes on the ship and ensure that what we predict they're going to do is what they actually do.

I don't, therefore, cross my fingers. I have my hand on a wooden spoon, stirring the pot, so to speak. We're actively watching over these ships, whether it's the Crystal Serenity, the Akademik Ioffe or a 50-foot yacht whose owners are a loving husband and wife just thinking about transiting the passage on a whim and a hope.

We're actively managing, ma'am.

Senator Raine: I appreciate that. Thank you.

Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation, rear-admiral. It's great to know that we are well secured right in the North.

I know that you've been working with different organizations. How much do you rely on private individuals, companies or maybe volunteers? Can you tell me what percentage we rely on them, please?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. I've talked about the offshore oil industry, which contracts standby vessels and search and rescue aircraft in the event of a rig emergency. You can well imagine something like the Deepwater Horizon occurring.

We work very closely with the contracted partners, like Cougar or Canadian Helicopters that's flying the Stena IceMAX in the Shelburne Basin. We have to figure out who all these companies are. The industry knows to come to us. We work with the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to understand the rig activities and which companies are going to start working, so we interact with those offshore petroleum development boards. It's the same for Nova Scotia. Then the companies invite us to participate in their emergency response plans, so we actually have a very interactive role in the development with private industry and commercial entities to facilitate both a search and rescue plan and a consequence management plan for these big sites offshore.

Search and rescue just doesn't occur out of the blue; it occurs against a backdrop of routine surveillance of Canada's waters and land areas. As well as a search and rescue commander, I am a surveillance commander and I have an operation called LEVIATHAN. In the North there is a surveillance operation called Op QIMMIQ, and on the West Coast there is one called SEA LION.

Search and rescue occurs against a backdrop of continuous surveillance and in surveillance we contract a lot of air hours that are provided by authorities like Provincial Aerospace. They help us survey the ocean. We put names to contacts, we validate the tracks and then, with my partners in the rest of the government, we dig in and understand who's in the crew, what kind of cargo is being carried and the activities of those vessels. There is a contracted agent we work with on a day-to-day basis called Provincial Aerospace Limited.

In the North we will often reach for an authority like Kenn Borek Air, which is a very experienced northern flyer with twin otter type aircraft that are well-suited to the North. We work with mine sites or geological survey companies that may be flying helicopters, and we will request they join a search and I'm an authority for paying for contracted services should that be the most proximal way to execute a rescue. Kenn Borek Air has been used on several occasions because of its proximity and expertise in getting to a search and rescue site.

These are just some of the ways, and if I thought longer I could generate a longer list of how we interact with commercial agents.

Senator Enverga: What percentage of their services do you use? Do you normally use them maybe 50 per cent of the time? How many times do you call them and say "we need you"? Do you have any stats that tell how much you need them at a certain point?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir, I understand the question. Anecdotally, from my head, the vast majority of flying is done by Royal Canadian Air Force helicopters and fixed-wing assets that are designated to me by the Royal Canadian Air Force. I would have to go and dig out the statistics, and I will provide you a specific answer to your question as to what number of flight hours are provided by a voluntary agency like CASARA, which is civil aviation. They are volunteers. We reach for them right away because they are part of the Canadian SAR system. For my SAR region, I can also provide a list of how many times we've contracted a civilian air company to join a search and rescue.

In my mind, though, the number is wildly and predominantly Royal Canadian Air Force flying the Cormorants and the Hercules aircraft. With respect to specifics, I will have to get back to you.

Senator Enverga: Thank you, sir. We will be expecting those numbers.

If we eliminated the private sector, what kind of efficiency could we get? Do you think we would be more efficient with regard to maybe going into the SAR and helping people, or is it more efficient at this time?

Rear-Admiral Newton: That's a good point, sir, because in Canada and in the larger SAR regions of the world, and let's say we're somewhere between number one and number ten in size. We're certainly not the biggest. In these really large SAR regions around the world there is no government-provided solution that will do it all. It would be wrong to build it because the proximity of another ship or the proximity of a community or a civilian flyer gives you the best response because time is of the essence. Always in search and rescue time is of the essence.

If somebody in the civilian world happens to be there, you should reach for it. If that's going to be the case, then you should nurture relationships with civilian authorities, whether they're community or civil aviation or shipping companies or fishing fleets. You should go out and nurture better relationships, and that's what we do. Then we get more proximity and more people knowing how to communicate. We get people eager to participate.

You can call it the Good Samaritan Act or go to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea but we all, as mariners and aviators, whether civil or military, understand the fundamental requirement to help fellow humans because tomorrow, as a ship's captain, I would expect you as a ship's captain to come to my rescue because of proximity.

I think it's in the best interests of big Canada and the big Arctic to nurture relationships with everybody and try to find the balance between federal forces and commercial enterprise. That's the trick.

Senator Enverga: My major concern was that Cougar was here last time and they told us that, although they have been helping people or the agencies, sometimes they will be unable because their equipment is dedicated to a particular place. How could we manage that in case they're not available? How do we ensure we cover all the SAR needs?

Rear-Admiral Newton: As far as I know, Cougar does contracted search and rescue and personnel movements to the oil rigs, and they get contracted by other authorities like installations in the wilderness, dam sites or mines, where that company feels it has to have its own standby capability, either to move people or to send someone to hospital because they're working in a very industrial setting. They are very much a contracted service provider.

I imagine that they have enough resources for each contract that they take. I assume that is the case. On a big case, like the big Hebron rig we're just building or the Hibernia rig that is already on the shelf, we all work together because there's no way that Cougar alone and the standby ship alone can be the rescue authority for the rig. We all know we must rush additional assets to the circumstance because it's going to be a bad night, it's going to be cold, with high seas, ice and fog, and everybody will be searching. We'll come to assist and work parallel with Cougar, side by side with them.

We nurture a relationship there because we don't believe they will be able to do everything, even though they're contracted. Again, it's part of this balance of we need them but they need us, too, and we need a system where we all work together.

Senator Enverga: Can you assure us that they will always be there for you to communicate with you or to join you?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. On really hard cases, we metaphorically open the book on all the available assets that we can pull on in the really hard cases. So Cougar, Universal and Canadian Helicopters are all well-known aviation service providers in industry, and we have relationships with them. From time to time, like with Provincial Aerospace who flies aircraft offshore for surveillance, we will contract or task that aircraft to fly the top cover for our helicopters.

It's probably not well-known that when we fly deep-ocean missions with our helicopters we are worried about our helicopter and the safety of those five members over the ocean, so we will fly a fixed-wing aircraft with our helicopter for the really long-range missions. Sometimes I get that escort from a Provincial Aerospace aircraft based in St. John's, Newfoundland, because it's the quickest way I can get an airplane to escort my helicopter.

I use this as an example of the constant dialogue with the commercial authorities to provide support to us, and at the same time we are there for them in the big rig emergencies or mine site disasters if a ground search and rescue or a humanitarian patient transfer should arise. It's a network of people working together, sir.

Senator Enverga: Thank you.

Senator Raine: You mentioned the automated mutual assistance vessel rescue system. Is that really what we're talking about here? What does "automated" mutual assistance system mean?

Rear-Admiral Newton: In the deep ocean, well beyond the range of helicopters, there is a risk area of the North Atlantic. It's midway between us and the Azores, or midway between Newfoundland and Ireland, and midway to the south tip of Greenland there is this big hole in the ocean where helicopters can't reach. In fact, helicopters just scratch the edge of the giant ocean basin.

So a long time ago, merchant industry was approached and organized into a system where merchant ships and participating companies would register their ships and then they would be tracked by maritime authorities. In the event of an emergency, we know which ships are very willing to actually stop, deviate from their route and start searching. An automated system is used to alert these vessels and to know where they are.

Having said that, pretty well all vessels feel obligated to search for fellow mariners, and we rarely have a hard time getting somebody to participate in a search. Sometimes you can get delayed on your passage and miss your slot in a port for unloading, so it is a bit of a risk for merchant ships to get involved in a search and rescue but they are very important to the task. They provide shelter, they search and many, many times in the deep ocean they effect the rescue, and we have cases of that this year. I just looked for a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic for two days, and the merchant ships in that area were key to the search.

In the case of the Atlantic Charger, it was a Canadian merchant ship that came to the rescue of the nine crew members. Although it didn't feel it could take the risk of rescuing the Atlantic Charger crew, it provided the shelter, proximity and a communication platform so we could manage the search and rescue after the commercial vessel had located the Atlantic Charger life raft. Big merchant ships are fundamental to the execution of search and rescue on the North Atlantic, ma'am.

Senator Poirier: Thank you, rear-admiral, for being here. Quite a few of my questions have already been touched on by some of my colleagues, but I have a couple that I wanted to add on to those.

During the study we have been doing so far on the maritime search and rescue programs, one of the issues that we have heard about a few times is the Arctic challenges with the Northern traffic. I know some of my colleagues have touched on that already.

Just last week, the committee heard from the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, and they mentioned to us that they had received extra funds to answer to some of the Northern challenges.

As your budget currently stands, do you have adequate funds to respond to Northern challenges?

Rear-Admiral Newton: I'm not budget-limited. I have been provided aircraft, resources and the crews to fly them, and 40 hours a week of standby number hours at 30 minutes' notice to fly, and the rest of the week at 2 hours' notice to fly. The Coast Guard has enough big ships for the areas that we're covering.

The fleets are all busy; nobody is not busy. The navy fleet is busy in Canadian waters and deploying to the North. I am not personally budget-limited, nor is the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre or the aircraft provided to me by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The readiness seems to match the demand, and the Air Force affords that level of readiness.

I don't usually think, ma'am, in terms of budget. We would have to go back to the Air Force and ask if the number of hours they are providing me is taxing their budget, but I have not heard those kinds of communications as a senior commander.

Senator Poirier: Thank you. When a call is taken from the North area, where is the help deployed from? How far do they have to go?

Rear-Admiral Newton: Our immediate response would be to reach for community assets, commercial providers and experts in flying in the North. I mentioned Borek before, and that's one type of industry that flies in the North.

Immediately on the call, without hesitation, a case is opened in my JRCC and we task the big Cormorant helicopters to start flying North. They do it in three hops. We also task immediately, either from Trenton or from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, the big search and rescue Hercules aircraft to start flying. They have a several-hour flight time — three to five hours — to get into the North to be overhead and start communicating or searching for the lost mariners, victims in lifeboats or a ship taking on water.

We don't wait and wait for those aircraft to arrive. We're always working with any kind of merchant ships transiting the area, as was the case where the nickel-carrying merchant ship came to the aid immediately of the Atlantic Charger. We reach for a commercial air company or a Transport Canada Dash-8 on an ice patrol or environmental patrol; we look for any other Royal Canadian Air Force assets flying in the North. In the case of 2013, where the adventurers drifted out into the Northwest Passage while on an expedition to swim with the narwhals, they were Griffin helicopters doing a mission in the north that turned around, left their mission and rescued the people on the ice floe.

We do this very active management, reaching for everything we can in the region. As a SAR authority, we have a great deal of authority and trust with the partners we work with. If we use any kind of commercial entity, if demanded by the authority, we will repay them for their hours. Otherwise, in that period of time, the big air force from the South is flying north, but usually it's the combined forces of things already in the North and the aircraft flying from the South that reach the scene and deal with the emergency.

I would say, ma'am, that as we build the Arctic offshore patrol ship — we're building, say, six of these ships, and they are developed to carry the Cyclone helicopter and they can land Chinooks and Griffins on their deck — we are adding to the Canadian inventory a new class of standby capability in the North that will regularly patrol our waters. It is a big ship. It has command and control facilities, communications, a very large flight deck, it has three large boats, a large crane, can take medical staff and acts as a joint enabling capability with all the other elements of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I think we're doing a good job now, and I think with the recapitalization of the Coast Guard and the navy's building of the Arctic offshore patrol ships, things will develop apace the change of activity in the North that we're witnessing.

Senator Poirier: As the activities increase in the Northern areas, in your opinion would what you have just described be the best solution?

Rear-Admiral Newton: There are several risks in the Arctic, whether it's shipping, aircraft operation or whether it's just people on the land and adapting to new circumstances with ice and climate.

I think there are quite a few things that are evolving from a capital point of view. The RADARSAT Constellation Mission is going to give us a far better and more precise picture of everything moving in Northern latitudes. Right now I depend on or rely on, to some degree, RADARSAT-2. We're getting an increment in quality and the number of passes above that.

We're building the Arctic offshore patrol ship. The Coast Guard and Fisheries fleet is being recapitalized. The Canadian Air Force's C-17s and C-130Js fly into almost all of the air strips in the North, whether dirt-covered or short. The large Chinook helicopters are Arctic capable and being developed increasingly for the Arctic. We move our Cormorant helicopters around the North, despite the challenges of weather. They are built for all weather and are very robust flyers. We are getting good communications with the Global Wideband Satellite system that we're now using in the military.

Aside from the forces I've been given I see, in the Canadian Armed Forces, quite a bit of development that is tuned to the North. You see an increased invigoration of the Rangers and a far higher level of Canadian Armed Forces activity in the North, whether it's the Arctic Response Company Group, Joint Task Force North, me as the Maritime Component Commander in my patrol ships or my role in northern Labrador as a Joint Task Force Commander, our work across the straits with Denmark, and our work to the district of the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska. There is quite a convergence of capability that seems to be developing apace the change of the ice and climate regime in the North. I see it as a bit of a good thing. I don't think it's all in the search and rescue bucket but, as a Canadian Armed Forces senior officer, I do see it having a relationship to what we're trying to achieve with search and rescue.

Senator Poirier: Thank you very much. Thank you for all the great information you have provided tonight.

Rear-Admiral Newton: You're welcome, ma'am.

The Chair: On behalf of the committee members, rear-admiral, I would like to thank you for your time and your very interesting and informative answers to the questions raised here this evening. Certainly it will add much as we continue on with our study. I apologize again for the late start, but your information has been wonderful. Thank you.

Members, I would ask for agreement on a motion to proceed in camera to consider a draft agenda, just for a few moments, for future business. Agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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