Special operations members of the Canadian Forces rappel from a helicopter during Operation Nanook on the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba August 24, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/ADRIAN WYLD
CHURCHILL, MB - This year's Operation Nanook sent a clear message - Canada is ready and willing to protect the North and its Arctic sovereignty.
The military billed it as the largest and most complex northern training operation the armed forces has held to date - taking place over the course of a month in both the Western Arctic and in northern Manitoba.
And on Friday, it included the public unveiling of the special operations forces, and the first time the elite unit displayed its capabilities to Canadians and the rest of the world.
Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of the special operations forces, said the goal of the display was "deterring those who would do harm to us and reassuring the Canadian public they could handle any threat.
"It's important for them to be seen to be contributing to Canada's defence because a lot of what we do is in the shadows," he said.
But don't expect that to change - Thompson said the public exercise was a one-off event for the forces command, founded in 1993 and known for its off-the-radar covert operations.
In Hudson Bay, off the Manitoba shoreline, some 30 special forces operators - including Joint Task Force 2 soldiers - took part in a counter-terrorism simulation, boarding an eco-tourism vessel believed to contain a person who posed a threat to national security.
The 15-minute exercise included support from the Navy, Air Force, the RCMP and the coast guard.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who ended his annual multi-day northern tour in Churchill, watched the special operations forces rappel onto the vessel from Griffon helicopters and climb in from light, high-performance boats to contain the simulated threat.
He then posed with the team - wearing balaclavas to hide their identities - for a photo and offered them kudos on a "good job."
Later, speaking to military forces on board frigate HMCS St. John's, Harper said Canada's military is ready to protect Canada's sovereignty over the vast north and its wealth.
"In an uncertain world where demand for resources is growing, where any number of civilian needs can suddenly come upon us, and where conflicts and potential conflicts remain ever present, you, our men and women in uniform, are here to literally stand on guard for the true North strong and free," he said.
The military has organized the annual Operation Nanook in Canada's North since 2007, with scenarios involving everything from containing environmental spills to search-and-rescue operations.