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Canada's Arctic Sovereignty
Q&A - 6/23/10

Tags: Arctic - North - Ports North - Nanisivik - NAFTA - Inuit Nunangat

Canada's Standing Committee on National Defense issued its report on Canada's Arctic Sovereignty on June 17. The report presented 17 recommendations. These recommedations included creating a cabinet committee on Arctic affairs; giving priority to resolving the dispute over the Beaufort Sea with the US; providing proper infrastructure to ensure safe passage of vessels through Arctic waters; ensuring that the Inuit be included in scientific research projects pertaining to the environment.

The Water Chonicles' publisher, Josee Dechene (JD), and journalist, Bob Brouse (BB), each emailed questions to several of the academic and Inuit witnesses who appeared in front of the committee. Four out of six have replied. Kenneth Coates, Historian and Dean of Arts at the University of Waterloo; Rob Huebert, Professor of Political Sicences and Associate Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary; Mary May Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami together with John Merritt, Legal Counsel, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.(NTI) and Senior Policy analyst Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Full Report

Do you see conflict with other circumpolar countries ever being a reality? (BB)

The prospect of armed conflict or serious confrontation is very small. One never says never in any file related to human relations, but the prospects are very slim.

I don't foresee any all out war but resource issues related to fishing and shipping could definitely lead to conflict.

Perhaps one of the few good things that can come out of our shared anxieties about climate change is our increased awareness that we really do live in a 'global village' … we are all in this together. While history teaches, sometimes harshly, that human beings and the societies we form are far from perfect, and never will be, we must all shoulder our share of responsibility to sustain peace. There will always be disputes and tensions in the Arctic, just like everywhere else, but I am confident that the Arctic can not only avoid military conflict, but also offer lessons on conflict resolution to the rest of the world.

Why, with everything at stake, did this take so long to be a front page issue in Canada? (BB)

This issue comes and goes in Canada. It has been a big issue in the past. The matter receded in importance. Then it came back again. The big problem in Canada is that we have a very short Arctic attention span!

It's a frustrating question which I am at a loss to explain. Canada has always pretended to be a Northern country but in fact 90% of its population lives along the US/Canada border and faces south. We are more concerned with US politics and concentrate on the North only when threatened by outside forces.

It is important to remember that, while public interest in issues of Arctic sovereignty has increased sharply in recent years, these issues have achieved high public profile intermittently in the past. For example, public attention was certainly devoted to the passages of the US Manhattan and Polar Star. Inuit hope that the current upsurge in public interest is here to stay. Intelligent public policy making must ultimately turn on an informed public.

Will the new port at Nanisivik be worth what Canadians eventually put into it? And what would you think the price will be? (BB)

I have no idea what the price will be. Assuming it is reasonable, it will be well-worth the price. Canada needs a proper Arctic presence. This is a vital and overdue first step.

I imagine the cost will be considerable, although some money is being saved because Nanisivik is a former mine and has existing facilities. In any event, Canada needs a central point in the North to patrol and enforce its borders along the passage. In fact, ideally there should be two ports up there, Nanisivik in the east, and Tuktoyaktuk in the west.

Inuit organizations are not intimately involved in the development of cost estimates for new federal government infrastructure or the details of government contracting processes. It is true that installing infrastructure in the Arctic is more expensive than installing infrastructure in other parts of Canada, due to the extra costs that flow from geographic remoteness from major supply centres and the extra challenges of a harsh climate. But it is important that core infrastructure be installed and maintained as needed, and that the costs of such efforts be placed in the proper context of nation-building. Appropriately conceived and delivered, much infrastructure can serve both sovereignty/security purposes and civilian/economic development purposes. A good example is the building of more small craft harbours throughout Inuit Nunangat.

Could the gulf oil leak ever happen in our Arctic? What steps need to be taken to avoid this? (BB)

Of course an Arctic oil spill could happen. It is vital that the country demand very high environmental standards with a proper (ie. much better than the approach used in the Gulf of Mexico) emergency response system. Care in planning, care in execution, and attention to quick emergency response is required.

Oil drilling in the Arctic represents a major threat until we have developed oil recovery techniques that will work in ice conditions. For example, booms and skimmers do not work in ice conditions. The Norwegians have started to look into new recovery techniques for their Northern operations, but no failsafe techniques have been developed at this point.

Any place where oil exploration and development takes place is vulnerable to oil leaks and spills. In so far as such activities are authorized to take part in the Arctic, then there will be accompanying risks. The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of any leaks or spills due to the unique environment of the Arctic and the absence of infrastructure and logistical back-up. Development in marine areas would create especially acute risks. We need to take a 'time out' on oil development in marine areas until we have established a much higher confidence level than now exists that we are putting in place the most rigorous and effective regime possible.

Are you in favour of the Americans being hired to police the north, or do you think Canada needs to upgrade its own resources to police the North? (BB)
The first idea -- hiring Americans -- is not on. Canada has to do more -- and is doing more -- to establish our presence in the North. The Arctic is shared space, however. Collaborating with the Americans makes a great deal of sense and should be approached in the same spirit as our long-standing cooperation with the Americans on military and defense issues. The defense of Canada is coordinated with the Americans (and they pay most of the bills); why should the Arctic be different.

There is no reason to be sub-contracting policing the Canadian North out to anyone else. Saying this does not ignore the reality that Canada and the USA collaborated effectively during World War II and the Cold War to safeguard shared security. Nor does it ignore the very real opportunities that exist for a greater degree of international cooperation across the board, with a central role being played by the Arctic Council. A good way for Canada to upgrade its management role in the Arctic is to bring basic living standards up to national norms and to work in genuine partnership with Inuit on all important policy making fronts.

A July 2010 report put out by the Canadian International Council, contains a section on Arctic issues. One of its key proposals is that, "Canada share responsibility with the U.S. for control of North America's Arctic waters and skies through an expanded NORAD". Do you agree, or think this would not only threaten Canadian sovereignty and expand military integration with the U.S., but encourage the further militarization of the Arctic.(JD)

It is hard to imagine a sustainable solution to Arctic sovereignty that is not more collaborative than current arrangements. Canadian interests can be protected in this cooperative engagement. Greater surveillance will bring more military activities to the area. Canada and the USA have collaborated in the past. Shared interests will allow them to do the same in the future.

It would be one way to short circuit the Sovereignty issue. The Americans cannot officially agree to let Canada control the Northwest Passage since it would set a precedent that would affect other US agreements under the Law of the Sea, creating issues for the US in countries such as the Philippines and Spain. Besides the Arctic is already militarized, as many European countries are increasing their military presence in the North.

It is always a good thing for those who take an interest in the Arctic to put new ideas into the mix for public scrutiny and public debate. So far, a convincing case has not been created for a joint US/Canadian control over North America’s Arctic water and skies through an expanded NORAD or any other mechanism. For Inuit, the first priority for a Canadian government should be to define Canadian priorities in active partnership with Inuit.

What part does NAFTA play in the development of resources in the Arctic, or GATT? (BB)

NAFTA opens the development of Canadian resources to Americans, as both developers and consumers of Arctic resources. There are safeguards, including cancellation clauses, inside NAFTA to protect Canadian interests.

NAFTA creates a common market for oil and gas. Once Arctic oil is in the pipeline it is ruled by NAFTA under Chapter 6, and a proportion of it must be sent to the United States. Under NAFTA, oil is a commodity; and as such once it is traded it is hard to reverse the rules that govern its course. The problem would be similar with water. Once bulk water is traded, it becomes a commodity under NAFTA.

As Inuit Nunangat is part of Canada, these trade agreements apply to Inuit Nunangat. Their application to Inuit Nunangat is modified by relevant terms of Inuit land claims agreements, including provisions dealing with resource management and government contracting procedures.

Concerning Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Canada's Arctic Sovereignty report states that "In the case of Nunavut, NTI "... has referred 17 different issues for arbitration, and the federal government has rejected all 17." Why is this process not working in your view? (JD)

Implementing land claims has proven more difficult than anyone hoped. The agreements were supposed to provide certainty but instead raised some very difficult technical and procedural questions. Resolution will come slowly.

Essentially the process is not working because the Canadian government is reneging on what it is legally supposed to do.

As is asserted by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated in its statement of claim filed in the Nunavut Court of Justice in 2006, the Government of Canada has compromised the implementation of the NLCA by not meeting its lawful obligations. It is most unfortunate that the Government of Canada failed to embrace Thomas Berger's excellent March 2006 conciliation report on implementation; by being unwilling to act fairly and promptly on that report, the Government of Canada brought the lawsuit down on itself.

Can you give us your climate change scenario in the North? Most of what we hear is the icebergs are melting, not much else. (BB)

Climate change is a reality in the North. Icebergs are only part of the story. Longer and warmer summers, warmer winters, northward shift of plant and animal life, less secure ice coverage. The Arctic is changing faster than anywhere on the planet -- it provides warnings about what will happen to the rest of the globe in the coming decades. Northern communities are feeling and experiencing the changes now and will continue to do so.

Actually it is the multi-year ice sheets that are melting and as they break up more icebergs are seen. According to University of Manitoba Prof. David Barber, who headed one of the largest climate change study ever undertaken in Canada, multi-year ice cover will have totally disappeared by the end of the decade. There will still be first year ice as winters are still cold in the North but first year ice contains more oxygen and tends to be softer and less stable than multi-year ice.

There is no doubt that the Canadian Arctic is warming up. This has manifested itself in shrinking ice coverage, but also in temperature records and in biological indicators such as length of growing season and the appearance further north of insects and birds.

The report recommends the "development of international regimes governing activities in the Arctic, outside of national sovereign territories". This falls short of recommending a treaty similar to the Antarctic Treaty? Why this softer approach? (JD)

The Arctic and Antarctic are radically different places. A softer approach is the only one that has a reasonable chance of success. The competing interests of various states and stakeholders require more subtle processes.

There is a big difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic. First and foremost the Arctic is populated whereas the Antarctic is not. Then the Arctic is all about the maritime environment while the Antarctic is all about the land.

The Arctic and Antarctic have some similarities but also many differences. A principle difference is that the Arctic is the traditional homeland of distinct indigenous peoples and that areas of the Arctic are within the national boundaries of Arctic States. Perhaps someday there will be a need for an Arctic Treaty, but, that day has not yet arrived. If and when it does, the ensuing Treaty will no doubt be one of a kind.

Can you map out a time frame for settlement of the issues in the Arctic? Or at least how you see it? (BB)

Most of the issues will go away slowly and will be replaced by others. Ten years from now, there will be more focus on social and cultural issues. The boundary/sovereignty issues will be largely settled within a decade, and the saber-rattling will subside. Climate change is just getting started - -huge sifts still to come. The self-government issues, including with Nunavut, will improve slowly. The item in greatest need of urgent attention is finalizing and implementing land claims agreements. That should be accomplished within five years -- but it will probably take 20 years.

It is hard to pinpoint, as it depends on the international environment, even developments not directly connected to the Arctic could affect the time frame. The recent border dispute between Russia and Norway is a point in case; Chinese- US relations are another. A crisis could occur at any point; so I would say 10 to 15 years.

There will be domestic and international issues in the Arctic for as far forward as anyone can, or would want to, look. Inuit have experienced a lot of practical problems and disappointments when governments try to define their relationship with Inuit in fixed and finite ways … for example, implementing land claims agreements has become fractious precisely because governments try to convince themselves that these agreements are divorce contracts rather than marriage contracts.

At the end of the day, are you optimistic about the outcome of the North? Given all the challenges? (JD)

I am very optimistic. Northern leaders and northern communities are playing key roles, there is a high level of circumpolar collaboration, government interest is at an all-time high, and public concern is strong. There are many issues and none will be solved easily. But there are impressive things being done in self-government, empowerment of Indigenous peoples, environmental management, responsible resource development, etc.

Inuit survived in a harsh environment with little margin for error for more than four thousand years by having a bias towards hope. And as the environmental community often advises, we should plan for the worst but also hope for the best. Human beings contribute to human dignity by making our best efforts, and, whatever the odds and obstacles, good results can only come about through such efforts.

The Arctic Report is brought to you by


Canada's Arctic Sovereignty - Standing Committee on National Defense

Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age - Canadian International Council

The Arctic Puzzle - 3/15/09 - The Water Chronicles
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