Road in Yukon
Road in Yukon
© iStock

Interview with Robert Sinclair, the Canadian Senior Arctic Official

25 October 2023
Robert Sinclair comes to the role of Senior Arctic Official (SAO) with a background in legal issues, security, and human rights – as well as with a key diplomatic skill: the joy of working with and getting to know other people. We met Robert at the Arctic Circle Assembly 2023, where he had a chance to connect with many members of the tightknit Arctic community. He also took the time to give this interview to speak about his background, the aspects of his new role he is most looking forward to, and a memorable Arctic experience.

What is your background, and how do you feel it has prepared you for your role as Senior Arctic Official?

I have been with Global Affairs Canada for close to 29 years and I come to the role of Senior Arctic Official with a varied background including legal, human rights and security positions at headquarters in Ottawa, as well as postings abroad to Moscow, Washington, London, and Brussels. In Brussels, I was Deputy Head of Mission for Canada to the European Union and Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe. During this time, I also spent a year seconded to NATO. My experience with multilateral fora in addition includes work on the Human Rights Council and the OECD.

Robert Sinclair
© Private

What elements of your work with the Arctic Council are you looking forward to?

I just attended the Arctic Circle Assembly 2023 in Reykjavik, Iceland, and that certainly has been a great opportunity for me to meet the communities of people engaged in Arctic issues. When I was coming into the role, I was told that it’s the people that are the best part of the job and that it’s a very tightknit community. You don’t go into diplomacy if you don’t like working with people – that’s the number one job criteria, I would say. I’m also looking forward to getting to know my own country better, working with our Indigenous partners. Listening and learning from them is one of my absolute priorities for the job.

I would also like to mention that Canada’s Foreign Minister has been directed by the Prime Minister to specifically advance the Arctic as a policy priority. This is something that I will be doing, both bilaterally but also, and most importantly, through the Arctic Council. I’m looking forward to working with all my Senior Arctic Official counterparts in keeping the Arctic Council vibrant. Further, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the first Canadian Senior Arctic Official, Mary Simon, who continues to follow the Arctic Council and Arctic issues very closely as Canada’s Governor General. I met her recently and she was clearly following the Arctic Council. I have very big shoes to fill and it’s an absolute honor to follow in her steps.

What is one of your most memorable Arctic experiences?

Back in 1997, I was on a cross-Canada tour for new recruits of Global Affairs Canada. As Canada is such a big country, Global Affairs felt that it was important to introduce new recruits to parts of the country that they may not have seen before. We were traveling for a few weeks, and I made it up to Yukon where I created a lasting memory, meeting with an Indigenous elder, a wonderful woman. I still remember her speaking about climate change and the effects in the Arctic. She spoke of how, as a child, she used to play this game of exhaling in the cold air and the breath was turning into ice crystals. The game was to try to touch those ice crystals before they fell to the ground – but already back in 1997 she said that they couldn’t play that game anymore. This anecdote stayed with me, and it speaks of the value of Indigenous knowledge and lived experiences that can tell the tale of not just climate change but other issues that people in the north face.