Canadian Sovereignty Over The Northwest Passage

2423 words - 10 pages

A complex collection of more than 1800 separate islands forms the Canadian Archipelago and Canada’s Arctic territory. 1 Within recent history the arctic has gained popular attention from governments both domestically and internationally. The rise in global climate temperatures accounts for longer, ice free Arctic summers, higher levels of resource exploration and development, and less challenges to access in the Arctic. Canadian sovereignty over Arctic lands and islands is undisputed with the single exception of Hans Island, a 1.3 square kilometer island claimed by Denmark.2 Currently what is disputed is the Canadian assertion of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage waterway. The passage which would facilitate international shipping through the sovereign Canadian archipelago island system, links the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Its widest and deepest course would take the Northwest passage from “Lancaster Sound through Barrow Straight into Viscount Melville Sound an onwards through M’Clure Straight and into the Beaufort Sea.”3 Historically Arctic ice made this route impossible to cross, but rising temperatures are changing that. The government of Canada believes that the Northwest Passage is situated within internal Canadian waterers, thereby falling under Canadian sovereign jurisdiction, subject to Canadian domestic laws. With the possibility of the passage becoming a international shipping rout, many countries including the United States do not agree with this claim. They suggest the Northwest passage should be an international straight subject to the International Law and the doctrine of transit passage.4

When assessing the validity that Canada’s has a claim to Northwest Passage sovereignty three questions need to be asked. Will the Northwest Passage become an international shipping lane? Does Canada have legitimate claim to sovereignty over the Northwest passage? Does Canada have the resources to exercise sovereignty over such a large open body of water? These questions will help expose Canada’s rationale and claim to sovereignty of the Northwest Passage and investigates the likelihood that it is capable to do so.

Currently the the opening in the Northwest passage is measured in days but increasing global temperatures is transforming the potential of this passage. Temperature are rising, summers are getting longer, and the ice caps are melting. “Between 1979 and 2007, scientists have noted a 40% reduction in the extent of regional ice cover, with 20% of that loss occurring between 2005 and 2007 alone (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Snow and Ice Data Center)”.5 In the first decade of the new millennium the ice caps have melted exponentially. “scientists were stunned by the rapidity of the ice retreat in summer 2007, a 20 percent loss from just two years earlier.”6 The Northwest passage is growing in shipping and use potential because it is remaining free of ice for longer periods of time every year....

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