April 6, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 98  

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Can Canada protect its Arctic?

By Maureen Finn
Gazette Staff

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 said.

“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 said.

“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 added.



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