The Honourable Senator Harder, Government Representative in the Senate
June 2, 2016
Russia—Dumping of Toxic Chemicals—Arctic Sovereignty
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, my question is to the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator, in a May 18, 2016, article in the National Post, Dr. Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, drew Canadians’ attention to the imminent launch of a Russian hydrazine-fuelled missile with debris from this rocket stage projected to land in Baffin Bay in the High Arctic two days from now.
Honourable senators, the negative effects of hydrazine are well documented. More recently, articles were published yesterday reporting the outrage Canadians feel about the chemical pollution of a Canadian exclusive economic zone subject to protection under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.
Marty Kuluguktuk, the senior administrative officer of Grise Fiord in Nunavut, told me, “Polar bears, seals, whales, birds and indeed all wildlife utilize this area in Baffin Bay, and, in turn, we harvest these animals for food. We feel the North is pristine, and dumping of these extreme toxins will go up the food chain and affect our health in the High Arctic.”
The missile debris is set to fall into Baffin Bay this Saturday.
Just a last bit of background before I ask my question. Canada’s new approach is to re-engage with Russia. I’m aware that all Global Affairs Canada has done on this issue is to give a moderate statement saying they have “. . . sought clarification from the Government of Russia regarding the lack of sufficient notification of this rocket launch,” and they have “. . . stressed to the Government of Russia the need for greater advance warning of planned launches to ensure that all precautions, relating both to the safety and security of our airspace and any potential environmental concerns, can be appropriately addressed.”
What more will Canada do to protest this violation of Canadian law and reinforce its sovereignty in the Arctic? Is Canada prepared to pursue legal options it has to recover the cost of environmental cleanup in Baffin Bay as they’re entitled to do under the 1972 Space Liability Convention?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I want to thank the honourable senator for his question and for the courtesy of giving me notice of the question. I appreciate that and can inform the Senate, as he has referenced, that the Government of Canada has conveyed directly to the Government of Russia its concern about this launch and has protested its displeasure in not receiving earlier notice of the launch and has stressed to the Government of Russia the need for greater advance warning of launches in order to take necessary precautions with respect to our safety, environment and security.
We have also informed the Government of Russia that we expect them to make every effort to ensure that the debris does not land on Canadian territory.
These messages were strongly conveyed, and the Government of Canada is reflecting on its next steps when, and if, this launch takes place with the consequences that the honourable senator has referenced.
Senator Patterson: Senator, my understanding is that the debris will land in Canadian waters. It will land on the North Water Polynya, an 85,000 square kilometre ice-free area. Canada knows that because a NOTAM has been issued precisely defining an area in which that debris will fall, and information about the launch, the type of rocket and fuel and the likely location of the debris field was publicly available in early May.
I think Canada has had some significant notice of this. I believe that blaming Russia for a lack of notification might seem, to some, to be a bit of a diversion, because the government has known about this for some time.
Will Canada be deploying search and recovery teams with the necessary equipment, helicopters, haz-mat suits, to Grise Fiord in anticipation of this debris falling into Canadian waters this Saturday?
Senator Harder: I can assure the honourable senator that the Government Operations Centre is monitoring the situation closely to ensure that in the event of any requirement, response is available as quickly as possible.
Senator Patterson: Hydrazine is an extremely toxic substance, so toxic that pressurized haz-mat suits are required by technicians who work with it. The United States ended their Titan missile program 10 years ago due to health and environmental risks after one of their last U.S. missile stages dumped two tonnes of hydrazine into the environment.
Greenpeace — and I don’t usually, or maybe never, align with Greenpeace — has stated that dumping these chemicals from a ship would be a clear violation of international and Canadian law, and it is no more acceptable when it is dumped from the air.
In light of this outrage, will Canada lead an effort to push for an international ban on hydrazine-fuelled rockets?
Senator Harder: Again, I welcome the senator’s question and would like to convey that the Government of Canada is reviewing all its options. I will particularly make reference to your suggestion.