Asserting Sovereignty 1: Use the Law

Again today, the issue of Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters was raised by US Ambassador Wilkins, and subsequently dismissed by acting-Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The United States defends its sovereignty and the Canadian government will defend our sovereignty,” Harper told reporters in Ottawa. “It is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States.”

Well, I can agree with our new PM there.

“There’s no reason to create a problem that doesn’t exist,” Wilkins said as he took part in a forum at the University of Western Ontario in London.

“We don’t recognize Canada’s claims to those waters… Most other countries do not recognize their claim.”

Who exactly is “creating a problem”?

During the election, Harper made a rather outlandish claim that he would spend over $7 billion to build 3 armed heavy icebreakers as well as a deep sea port at Iqaluit (Google Map) and an array of underwater sensors. Now I wouldn’t necessarily support such a huge buildup in our North. But there is, absolutely, a need here to address the sovereignty issue especially as the climate in the North warms up and the ice breaks.

There are a number of political steps Canada can take first in order to stake it’s claim. If we combine the following with an increased focus on development and security in the North in the form of support for economic growth in the North and an increase in Canadian Forces patrols in the area we shouldn’t have to spend billions on ships that will spend most of their lives in port and mythical sensors.

The first step is relatively simple.

Canada must officially ratify the UN Convention on Law of the Sea of 1982

Tthere have already been government reports prepared on the issue but they don’t necessarily address the issue fully. According to the UN, Canada has only declared its’ intention to formally ratify the convention and related treaties. It is time to take the first step towards asserting our sovereignty by signing the document that would give our country a mechanism to *prove* and enforce our sovereignty.

The United States, Russia, Denmark, UK and many other major countries have also not made motions but as yet have not formally agreed to the convention. One notable exception is Japan, which has ratified the Convention, though not the Fishing treaty.

So what is the Law of the Seas?What can it do for Canada? Well, it addresses many issues relating to the 12 nautical mile zone extending from a State’s coastline.

Some important articles from the convention emphasis added:

Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles

waters on the landward side of the baseline of the territorial sea form part of the internal waters of the State.

Where the establishment of a straight baseline in accordance with the method set forth in article 7 has the effect of enclosing as internal waters areas which had not previously been considered as such, a right of innocent passage as provided in this Convention shall exist in those waters.

These articles deal explicitly with the underlying “problem” that Ambassador Wilkins is referring to.

There are a number of points within the Northwest Passage where the waters between islands in the Arctic Archipelago or between them and the Continental mainland are less than, or very close to 24 nautical miles (12×2) across.

A few of those points are… links are to Google Maps, zoom them out to see whereabouts in the Arctic they are:

Starting around 50 miles into the Northwest Passage West of Baffin Bay.

There are many very tight spots (less than 5 miles) particularly near Resolute that would be difficult to navigate, especially for large tanker traffic including here, here, and here.

There are more tight spots on the Western end of the passage as well including here

In short, there are plenty of points where Canada can and should assert it’s sovereignty and where “innocent passage” rules would apply to commercial and military traffic.

Here is how “innocient passage” is breached.

Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;
(e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;
(f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;
(i) any fishing activities;
(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;
(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.

In the territorial sea, submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.

Foreign nuclear-powered ships and ships carrying nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances shall, when exercising the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea, carry documents and observe special precautionary measures established for such ships by international agreements.

If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately.

And finally.. since the Arctic islands are an Archipelago, we can likely apply the relevant section the Law of the Sea…

An archipelagic State may draw straight archipelagic baselines joining the outermost points of the outermost islands and drying reefs of the archipelago provided that within such baselines are included the main islands and an area in which the ratio of the area of the water to the area of the land, including atolls, is between 1 to 1 and 9 to 1.

The length of such baselines shall not exceed 100 nautical miles, except that up to 3 per cent of the total number of baselines enclosing any archipelago may exceed that length, up to a maximum length of 125 nautical miles.

That easily covers the Baffin Island Archipelago.

By fully ratifying and implementing the Law of the Seas, Canada can make a statement, both on it’s sovereignty and as a leader in recognizing International Law.

I’ll publish Part 2, dealing with the Provincial creationist aspect, tomorrow.

2 replies on “Asserting Sovereignty 1: Use the Law”

  1. The International Law of the Sea is a lovely document as far as it goes, but means little to two groups of people:

    1) those who haven’t ratified it, and,

    2) those who don’t pay much attention to international law of any kind.

    Can anyone think of any countries (I stress the plural here) that fall into one or the other of those groups, or perhaps both?

    I suspect that increasingly, governments all over the world are involved in the hollow speech that characterizes groups of people who want to do something without the constituents on whom they depend, at least nominally, knowing too precisely what they’re gettin’ up to.

    Consider the following:

    As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests. -Gore Vidal

    This kind of behaviour, so prevalent all over the world today, makes the rule of law even more difficult to enforce.

    Woe is us if we don’t get more involved in the process.


  2. I absolutely agree with you… i guess my position would be if we ourselves chose not to accept and abide by the law then we can’t expect anyone else to either. If that’s the case then we might as well hasten our march towards becoming the 51st state… or alternatively spend our precious billions on nuclear powered icebreakers with super-secret submarine busting mallets.

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