Russel Shearer

The Director of Northern Science and Contaminants Research at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and chair of the NCP Management Committee shares his insights and experience with the NCP since the very beginning in 1991, including the positive impact on Northerners, and how research and monitoring is carried out in the North.

Transcript: Russel Shearer

It’s kind of exciting because you think of the Northern Contaminants Program as negative, negative, negative, but in actual fact it’s very positive. It’s had a very positive impact on the people in the north. It’s improved the health of northerners. It’s really made a real difference.

I’m Russel Shearer. I’m the director of Northern Science Contaminants Research Directorate at the Aboriginal Affairs Northern Development Canada in Ottawa. And I have been the director since 2004, and before that I had been involved in the Northern Contaminants Program as a senior co-ordinator since its inception in 1991.

Someone once asked me how can someone sort of work in a program for 20 years, expecting it gets boring after a while. The last thing it is is very boring. It’s actually really been incredibly satisfactory seeing that we’ve really made a difference in people’s lives. Back when we first started the Arctic was considered to be pristine. It was one of the only untouched areas in the world. But we realise now that that’s just not the case, that anything that we do down south in terms of pollution has impacts everywhere in the world including the Arctic. So as a result we had no idea it was such a big issue.

But the issue is not over. There are other new contaminants of concern or old contaminants that are rearing their ugly head again such as mercury. So we need to do more. We need to negotiate – continue to negotiate at the international level to make a difference on the impacts in the north and the people that live there.

And I can’t stress enough the importance of partnerships in this program. We actually very early on realised that this is not just an issue of academic interest, you know, for scientists to go in, collect samples and analyse them in their labs and then publish papers. This is something that is at the heart of northerners because it has impacts on their food and food security issues. So we need to involve them in this process directly. And so through participatory action and participatory management of the program we’re able to work closely with northerners, and we’ve really changed the way people conduct research and monitoring in the north.

It’s no longer just fly in, fly out – fly in, grab samples, fly out again. That was the old style. Now it’s like we need to communicate before anyone even arrives up in the north from the south with the communities involved, involve them, bring them, have them be part of your research, collecting the samples, having them come down to the south and do the analysis in southern labs. I mean you’re seeing a lot of cross-fertilisation from the south to the north, north to the south.

So where do we go from here, because it’s been a tremendous success. We really want to start to engage northerners, empower them more to take on more responsibility within the program. So we’re going to sort of expand our horizons, expand our scope, and work with more and more partners to make all that happen. So we’re very excited by the future of the Northern Contaminants Program.


Until his retirement in 2015, Russel Shearer was the Director of Northern Science and Contaminants Research of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. In this position, he chaired the NCP Management Committee for the past 15 years. He also served as the Canadian Head of Delegation and Vice-Chair (and former Chair) of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), one of the Working Groups under the Arctic Council. He was a member of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) global mercury negotiations as well as the global legally binding UNEP Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. He is also the chair of the Research Management Committee (RMC) of ArcticNet.