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Canada's Arctic Sovereignty Under Threat
There's more than snow and polar bears up there
Michael Lomas (lomas)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-15 09:59 (KST)   
Preface: with apologies to American folk singer legend Woody Guthrie, I feel like a song is coming on:
This land is our land, this land is Canada, eh,!
From the frozen Arctic to the American border,
From the cod-less Atlantic to the tree-less Pacific,
This land is made for you and me.
Or maybe I should revise the lyrics further, to:
This land is our land, it sure ain't your land
So back off fella, that's an official order
Keep yourself on your own side of the border
This land is made for me, not you.
Now I've got that out of my system, let's get serious for a wee bit.

I read recently in a bunch of our local newspapers that Canadian troop patrols have been snowmobiling madly over snow and jagged sea ice way up north near Resolute Bay near the Arctic Circle. They have been firmly and resolutely sticking Canadian maple leaf flags in the snow and then singing Canada's national anthem "Oh Canada! We stand on guard for thee."

On guard for what? Apparently, if we don't keep on claiming that the Arctic is ours -- by being physically there -- Canada has some challengers coming from elsewhere, from countries who might try to assume property rights and raise their own flags there. It is kind of like squatters. If you squat there long enough, you might get residential rights.

This kind of hassle is not new. Canada has ongoing territorial disputes with the Americans over the Beaufort Sea, Denmark is claiming that some silly little island off the coast of Greenland is theirs, and Russia is arguing with us about who has control of the Arctic going right up to the North Pole.

For Canadians, this could be seen as a matter of pride. Our current national slogan is "From sea to sea." True, some say we should update it to include the northern coastline. So, it should say "From sea to sea to sea." Others suggest we should make it read "From sea to sea to sea to see."

Note the fourth key word "see." That's not a spelling mistake. That represents the Canadian attitude towards Americans. Every time those folks do something foolish we say "See, there they go again." The point is, we can't say from "sea to sea to sea" if we can't get some recognition and respect about the great northern Arctic, the Canadian Arctic.

Apart from national pride, this competition for the Canadian north is about resources, the billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues, and loads of valuable minerals including first-class diamonds that lie under the frozen tundra and ice. And maybe it is also because the way global warming is going, the frozen arctic will sooner than later have a much warmer climate, within a century they say.

Then, the North West Passage will become a pleasant, year-round open sea lane for cruise ships instead of ice breakers. And it will serve as the smart short cut to the Pacific for everyone, eliminating looping all the way down to the equator's Panama Canal.

There's a huge saving on distance if you go that way. I proved it. I clicked onto Google Earth and measured how far it is by sea from Portsmouth, Britain to Seoul, South Korea.

Via the Canadian Northwest Passage it is about 15,500 kilometers. Via the Panama Canal it is close to 24,000 kilometers. A huge saving of 8,000 kilometers or more going the northern route.

While I was into what, for me, is advanced mathematics, I did some calculations on the Canadian border. Canada's coastline is the world's longest at 243,792 kilometers. Add to that our southern land border with the U.S. of 8,893 kilometers (that includes our land border with Alaska in the north). That's a quarter of a million kilometers of border! And we only have 32.5 million folks, seniors and children included. And, according to Statistics Canada, our population is not growing very fast -- by only one person every two minutes and 41 seconds. We don't have time or resources to guard it all. Firstly, there's the hockey season. Secondly, there's the driveway to clear of snow. Then there is summer up at the cottage and barbecue time. You get the idea?

Don't count on Canada maintaining a military presence in the north. In 1956 there were 100,000 Canadian troops, today about 60,000. We have those troops in Afghanistan, some sailors in the Persian Gulf, plus others on duty in Europe with the United Nations forces. And there's recent talk of Canadian troops going to troubled parts of Africa.

As it is, the Canadian Rangers are the ones who have been recently planting those flags, asserting our sovereignty. They are part-time reservists, a northern force that was established way back in 1947 to serve as a Canadian military presence. There are about 4,000 of them spread across the north. And most of them are sleet-wise Inuit who know how to survive and thrive in that harsh, unforgiving climate.

Canada's native Nunavut population may have a say in all this. The territory of Nunavut came into being in 1999. It is an area of two million square kilometers that stretches north and west of Hudson's Bay, right up to the North Pole. It has a population of only about 29,000. Nunavut, in the native language of Inuktitut, means "our land."

Let's hope Canada can be recognized for its claim over the Arctic of its north. It can get very complicated. In addition to Canada's Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Labrador there is the U.S.'s Alaska and Denmark's Greenland to consider. And disputes can get messy. Examples: Palestine and Israel over the West Bank, Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, Turkey and Greece over Cyprus. Can't we just get along?

Sadly, from about the year 1500 onwards, countless territorial wars and broken treaties between North American's original native population and "squatters" from Europe have demonstrated that pacts and promises are not worth the paper they are written on. You have to plant your flag and keep telling latecomers to back off. And if necessary, with force.

Back off, eh!

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©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Lomas

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