A question of security, not sovereignty

I thoroughly enjoy reading your magazine. In my humble opinion, I believe Vanguard to be the leading publication on discussing Canadian security and defence issues. Much to my delight, your Jan/Feb 2009 featured a cover story about Canada’s Arctic sovereignty by Nancy Teeple entitled “Sovereignty Under Siege: The Prince Patrick Incident of 2040.”

I was expecting to read a futuristic scenario about foreign vessels denying Canada’s legal authority over the Northwest Passage, or perhaps a feud between Canada and the United States over the maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea.

Instead, Ms. Teeple envisioned Prince Patrick Island being invaded by a strange organized crime/international corporation hybrid, bent on illegally extracting natural resources. Although riveting, this example has nothing to do with Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and everything to do with Canada’s Arctic security!

A foreign presence in the Arctic does not automatically equate as a challenge to Canada’s sovereignty. Imagine if you will, a similar situation elsewhere in Canada. If organized crime attempted to coercively extrapolate natural resources from the Queen Charlotte Islands or the Albertan tar sands, would Canada’s sovereignty be challenged?

No, this would be a matter of national security requiring the immediate attention of the RCMP or the Canadian Forces. If this is true, then Ms. Teeple’s scenario would not be any different simply because it occurs within the remote Arctic.

Simplistically, Canada’s sovereignty is challenged in two ways. First, Canada believes that its national laws are applicable to all vessels navigating northern waters. Under the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is unclear whether foreign vessels are legally entitled to a maritime right of passage when navigating through Canada’s northern waters. If they were entitled to such a right, Canada’s jurisdiction over transient vessels would be severely restricted. Second, the location of Canada’s maritime boundaries remains disputed. Again this mostly refers to UNCLOS, where countries refute Canada’s methodology for delimiting maritime boundaries, but there also exists three bilateral disputes that Canada manages with its polar neighbours. Also, Canada has yet to delimit the extent of its continental shelf, and must do so by 2013 if it wants access to the billions of barrels of oil believed to be underneath the Arctic sea floor.

Importantly, there is a theme to Canada’s current sovereignty woes. They are maritime in nature and have little to do with the occupation of territory. Even in the case of Hans Island, the dispute is based upon Canada and Denmark not agreeing to the maritime border around the island from joint survey work that was conducted in 1972.

Ms. Teeple’s article reflects general misconceptions about Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. Yes, there is unquestionably a need to enhance Canada’s present ability to monitor and react to events in the Arctic. Her article is correct in implying this.

However, not every foreign action in the Arctic threatens our sovereignty. A foreign unwanted presence upon Canadian soil would be a matter of national security, and that, remains indisputable.

Marshall S. Horne
Masters of Strategic Studies Candidate
Centre for Military and Strategic Studies
University of Calgary