Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stormy Waters

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

Explorers have sought the way over land and sea to abounding treasure in places sometimes known only to legend: the Kingdom of Prester John, the Isle of Hy-Brasil, the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Fountain of Youth, and the Northwest Passage.

Of all these, the Northwest Passage alone exists, not the placid path to the silks and spices of the Orient for which mariners searched in vain, but a frigid, ice-choked strait leading from one cold sea to another.

And now the fabled name will officially disappear, cast off as our politicians navigate the stormier seas of international law:

We're calling it the Canadian Internal Waters now," says Lt.-Col. Drew Artus, the chief of staff for Joint Task Force North, whose mandate includes protecting Canadian sovereignty over the vast area north of the 60th parallel.

"That's the guidance that we received. ... Sovereignty and the security of Canada and Canada's lands are important to (the government), and I guess that's part of their mandate to exercise authority, if you will, over what they believe is theirs."

Canada is at odds with much of the world over the status of the fabled waters that form the northern route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Basing its claim partly on the fact that Inuit have lived on the waters, when iced, since time immemorial, Canada says the passage is an internal strait.

Most major maritime powers call it an international passageway.

At stake is the right for Canada to overlay those waters with its own rules and regulations, which would mean the right to refuse entry to vessels that don't conform to certain environmental and construction standards.

The new government's pledge to build and station naval icebreakers and more troops in the Far North should make much more sense in light of these claims. If we can't at least maintain the semblance of control over our Arctic internal waters, everybody with arctic sea-going capability is going to go after them.

Our good will and reputation alone will not stop American or Russian ships from poking around there without permission.

A little hard power to back up our words will matter more than all the learned treatises on the law of the sea.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

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