The Shipping News Part II: How Canada's Arctic Sovereignty Is on Thinningice

By Huebert, Rob | International Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Shipping News Part II: How Canada's Arctic Sovereignty Is on Thinningice


Huebert, Rob, International Journal


CLIMATE CHANGE IS CAUSING FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES in the Canadian north. The net effect is an overall warming process that is now beginning a transformation with the potential to change almost all aspects of life in the region. These range from the way in which the northern aboriginal peoples hunt and fish on the land to the Canadian Arctic's position in the international system. With regards to the latter, the changing physical environment has the potential to accelerate a wide host of challenges to Canadian Arctic sovereignty and security. A warming Arctic will become a more accessible Arctic for the international community. It is this greater accessibility that will test Canada's ability to ensure that this region remains protected and promoted for all Canadians, including those that call it home.

Not everyone believes, however, that Canada is facing such challenges. In the spring 2003 issue of International Journal, Dr. Franklyn Griffiths offered an extensive and compelling article on why he believes such concerns about Canadian Arctic sovereignty are either overstated or so far into the future that they should be of limited concern to Canadians today. I disagree with this assessment.

Dr. Griffiths is one of Canada's top experts on the international elements of the Canadian north. His academic work has stood out as the leading literature on the subject,(1) but he has not limited his northern studies to the academic community alone. His op-eds in the national media have often played an integral role in prodding the government to actually "do" something in the north.(2) His work has been both a principle source of information and inspiration for all who wish to understand Canadian northern foreign policy. It is, therefore, with a strong sense of trepidation and challenge that I offer a critique of his recent article "The Shipping News: Canada's Arctic sovereignty not on thinning ice."

What complicates this task is that, while I consider his core arguments to be wrong, I do agree with some of his conclusions. What is the nature of this seeming paradox? In part, this is a direct result of Dr. Griffiths' ability to challenge accepted orthodoxies. One of the hallmarks of his highly successful academic career has been his ability to challenge accepted "wisdoms." Accordingly, he disputes the argument that climate change is creating an environment that will challenge Canadian northern sovereignty, contending that it is not substantiated in fact. On this point, I disagree. As this article will make clear, my reading of recent scientific evidence is that the melting of the ice cover is, indeed, occurring at a rate that warrants concern now, rather than later. Furthermore, I believe that there are numerous threats to Canadian sovereignty that will also occur sooner rather than later. As he proceeds through his argument, however, he still returns to the point that the Canadian Government is not doing enough to protect northern Canadian's interests. He is particularly critical of the government's continued reluctance to involve the Canadian northern peoples in the northern foreign policy process in a meaningful fashion, and it is on these points that I agree with him. Likewise, he calls for the creation of a consultative body that would combine the federal and territorial governments with northern aboriginal organizations to develop Canadian policy regarding the Arctic Archipelago, including issues related to security and sovereignty. On the need for such a body, I also agree. While the Canadian Government has taken important steps to consult with northerners and their leaders on foreign policy issues, there has been little evidence of these consultations leading to new and expanded funding to deal with the large number of international issues facing the Canadian north.

Where Dr. Griffiths and I part company, however, is on the urgency of the problem of melting ice. In his article, I believe he has created a "straw man" in which he has developed a series of arguments that, ultimately, depend on extreme circumstances in order to hold strong. …

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