Can Canada protect its Arctic?
By Maureen Finn
The dispute continues between Canada and Denmark over Hans
Island, a small land mass in the high Arctic between Ellesmere
Island and Danish-controlled Greenland.
Danish warships have been landing on the island and unfurling
their flag, and the Danish military occupies Hans, something
Western history professor Peter Krats said indicates the Danes
feel the land is theirs.
Canada also claims Hans Island. “The area around the
island is ours too,” he added.
“It is a little island, but if we say we don’t
care about this rock then we’re saying we don’t
care about other boundaries,” Krats explained, noting
another boundary dispute between Canada and the United States. “There
is an international boundary that Canada would argue runs along
the Yukon and Alaska boundary up to the North Pole.
“Once we claim this land, we have to stick to it,” he
“We can’t send a ship up there because our navy
ships are not ice-reinforced. We do have three or four ice-breaker
coast guard ships, but we don’t have enough resources
to use them because they are too valuable elsewhere,” Krats
“This situation is the kind of thing we occasionally
see between developing countries,” explained Paul Rowe,
a political science lecturer at Western. “The biggest
issue is that it questions the boundary line between Ellesmere
Island and Greenland,” he said, adding the issue would
become even bigger if offshore oil reserves were discovered.
“If this becomes a big enough issue, it could be brought
before the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands,” Rowe
added, noting that with global warming increasingly opening
the Northwest passage, the dispute becomes more relevant.
Jonathan Vance, a Western history professor, explained that
national sovereignty in the Arctic has always been a thorny
issue. “[But] it is usually the U.S., not Denmark, we’re
concerned with,” he said.
“It could go down in history as an amusing footnote
to Arctic sovereignty issues,” he said. “It is
highly unlikely that it would result in a fight.
“There is no question our military has been underfunded
to the point of starvation; however, even if it had more funding,
the first mission wouldn’t be Hans Island,” Vance