Canada heats up Arctic border talks

Arctic coastal states are meeting in Chelsea, Quebec, next month to discuss divvying up the region's vast territory and resources.

Arctic coastal states are meeting in Chelsea, Quebec, next month to discuss divvying up the region’s vast territory and resources.

Canada is hosting a day-long ministers’ meeting on March 29 that will exclude the Arctic Council and several circumpolar aboriginal groups.

By winnowing the pool of Canada’s partners in the Arctic, bureaucrats will lose expertise built up in the Arctic Council, said Larry Bagnell, the Yukon’s member of Parliament.

“Why not use the knowledge and research that’s already there?” said Bagnell, who has attended the council’s meetings on behalf of Canada.

Snubbing the council means only Russia, the United States, Norway, Canada and Denmark will meet to discuss territorial issues. Iceland, Sweden and Finland – all members of the council – have not been invited to next month’s tete-a-tete.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon will debrief the council’s chair, Denmark’s foreign minister, following the Chelsea meeting, said Alain Cacchione, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Finland’s minister has also agreed to the arrangement, wrote Cacchione in an e-mail.

However, by dismissing the council, several aboriginal groups, such as the Arctic Athabascan Council and the Gwich’in Council International, will be left out of the loop as the race for Arctic resources heats up.

“If the government is going to be talking about economic development, then the people of the Arctic should be invited to discuss economic development in the Arctic,” said Pita Aatami, acting president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Canada, in an interview with the CBC News.

Cannon will meet with members from the council’s advisory committee, which include the aboriginal groups, before the meeting, wrote Cacchione.

“The Arctic Ocean is beginning to experience significant change as a result of altering weather patterns and the ongoing search for new resources,” he wrote.

“This meeting will provide an opportunity to prepare for this change and encourage development that takes place in an orderly fashion and has positive benefits,” he wrote.

The meeting will include talks on continental shelf delineation, he said.

Canada recently announced its interest in resolving a longstanding territorial dispute over the US border with the Yukon on the Beaufort Sea.

“Canada favours a resolution of the dispute,” wrote Caccione in a separate e-mail.

The government usually remains tight-lipped about its disagreement with Washington over the border, and the positive overtures signal both countries may have made progress during a joint survey on continental shelf extensions in the Beaufort this summer.

“At this point, the information collected so far suggests there may be a potential overlap of the Canadian and US extended continental shelves in this area,” wrote Caccione. “The extent of the overlap is not yet known. It may make sense to resolve the maritime boundary and any extended continental shelf overlaps at the same time.”

The US and Canadian coast guards performed a joint survey of the northern Beaufort Sea last summer and will repeat the exercise this year. The research is being done ahead of meetings on the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea, which are poised to deal with territorial claims in the Arctic over the next few years.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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