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Shipping, Icebreaking, Nunavut, Inuit Rights, Ocean Policy, Canadian Arctic


Sea ice is a contested space when it comes to navigation in ice-covered regions. For Inuit in Nunavut, Canada, sea ice is an integral platform of coastal connectivity, allowing access to areas of subsistence and cultural value. For vessels transiting Arctic waters, sea ice poses potential risks to vessel, crew, and passenger safety consequently, icebreaking is considered an essential service. Yet, many communities in Nunavut have described icebreaking as having, or potentially having significant negative impacts on community and ecological wellbeing. Several policies regulate and provide guidance to icebreakers operating in ice-covered waters. With anticipated increases to icebreaking demand in Arctic waters supporting destinational shipping, a policy review was conducted to explore how current regulations governing icebreaking activities in the Canadian Arctic interact with the rights and livelihoods of Inuit who live in Nunavut. Policy instruments governing icebreaking activities were framed, assessed, and aligned to Inuit rights, as set forth by international, national, and territorial provisions. International instruments provide minimal attention to environmental impacts of icebreaking and even less to its cultural and social impacts. Canadian instruments refer to both environmental impacts and Inuit use of sea ice for winter travel routes, framing both as elements that should be taken into consideration during route planning. Despite this, Inuit have had little involvement in developing current icebreaking regulations and guidelines beyond those under territorial jurisdiction. From this review, opportunities and recommendations are identified that could allow for future icebreaking policies to better account for Inuit rights and governance values.