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Canada needs to work with Inuit to bolster its sovereignty claims in the Arctic, say experts

Canada needs to work with Inuit to bolster its sovereignty claims in the Arctic, say experts

Canada needs to work with Inuit to bolster its sovereignty claims in the Arctic, say experts

Published on 31 March 2015
Publications by Senator Art Eggleton

If Canada is going to achieve its territorial aims in the Arctic it needs to treat the Inuit population as partners, rather than using only their existence to bolster Canadian sovereignty claims. This was the message from a panel of experts who appeared before the Senate Liberal Open Caucus on Wednesday March 25 to discuss the issues facing the Arctic.

Rapid warming in the Arctic has led to the increased potential of tapping the vast natural resources that are said to lie below the seabed. The five arctic coastal states (Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States) are making territorial claims for these areas to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf through a process established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, as Robin Campbell of Hutchins Legal pointed out, none of this process looks at the rights of the Inuit people in the Arctic. Campbell noted that the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an NGO representing approximately 150,000 Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia) has enjoyed a great deal of support from Canada in the past, but are now being largely excluded in discussions about key Arctic issues. “Canada seems to be taking the tact that, this is an external matter, this is between us and other states, Inuit have no role to play and we’ll talk with Inuit once this is dealt with, if we talk to them at all,” she said.

Peter Hutchins, also of Hutchins Legal, noted that the ironic part in all this is that the presence of the Inuit in the Arctic is the best chance Canada has at achieving its objectives. However, this can only be achieved by respecting the spirit of the treaties which Canada and the Inuit have signed in the past, and this is not happening. “Canada says we now have full sovereignty and that’s it,” Hutchins stated, “but the transaction was quid pro quo. It was in return for something, and frankly if Canada does not honour its obligations, the Inuit are entitled to say the deal’s off.”

Furthermore, as the physical conditions in the Arctic under which these treaties were signed rapidly change (receding winter sea ice for example) the Inuit have the option of becoming free agents. “There is nothing to stop the Inuit from talking to the other coastal Arctic states and saying ‘Let’s work together,'” Hutchins said. “They are not our Inuit, they are Inuit.”

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, noted that for their part, the Inuit are more than willing to act with Canada in good faith. “Our arms are wide open; we’ve always been extending out to Canada to say we are here to work with you to shore up your Arctic sovereignty claims, give us a call anytime,” he said.

The Senate Liberal Caucus will meet on April 1st to discuss how to get young Canadians more involved in politics at the federal level.

Liberal Senator Art Eggleton represents the province of Ontario and chairs the Liberal Senate Open Caucus meetings



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