National News

PM raises Russian threat in speech to troops

By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press

BAFFIN ISLAND, Nunavut - An emboldened Russia is a threat to it neighbours in the Arctic and Canada must be ready to respond to any Russian incursions in the region, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday as he ended his yearly tour of Canada's North.

In a chest-thumping address to troops who took part in a series of military manoeuvres off the coast of Baffin Island, Harper spoke of how Canada must never drop its guard in the face of growing Russian aggression.

"In Europe, we see the imperial ambitions of Vladimir Putin, who seems determined that, for Russia's neighbours, there shall be no peace...," Harper said.

"And because Russia is also Canada's neighbour, we must not be complacent here at home."

It was the second mention of the Russian president in six days for Harper. The prime minister has made Arctic sovereignty a focal point of this year's northern tour, with announcements ranging from farming initiatives to remarks on the search for the lost Franklin ships meant to show Canada's control over its northern regions.

The prime minister spoke to the troops out on the barren tundra of the southern tip of Baffin Island, steep ridges surrounding him. Earlier in the day, the Canadian Armed Forces conducted part of their annual northern operation, Operation Nanook, in the nearby waters of York Sound.

Part of this year's exercise was meant to simulate the rescue of a cruise ship that has run aground in York Sound, near the southern tip of Baffin Island. Harper stood aboard the Strait Explorer as four soldiers rappelled from a helicopter hovering over the deck during part of Tuesday's operation.

An earlier part of the operation, which began Aug. 20 and runs until Aug. 29, simulated a search-and-rescue operation for a fishing ship in the Davis Strait.

This year's exercise involves personnel from all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces, a ship from the Danish navy and a U.S. surveillance aircraft.

The prime minister told military personnel they would always be needed to fend off threats to Canada in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.

"As we look at the world around us today, we see growing threats in a growing number of places and the growing strength of people who disdain democracy, despise modernity and kill people who don't share their religion," Harper said.

"People who, given even a sliver of a chance, would destroy everything that we, as Canadians, hold dear and have repeatedly fought to protect."

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