Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

North Pole is Canada's to claim

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Canada was to submit its claim to the Arctic today to a UN commission set to mediate warring interests over the territory regarded as holding a trove of potential riches in fossil fuels beneath its seabed. The Arctic -- the Northwest Passage, the archipelago and the North Pole itself -- is central to Canada's view of itself as a nation, and no country has stronger claim to them.

But that fact seemed to escape the bureaucrats who compiled the case, and the scientific evidence that includes seabed mapping Canada has amassed in the last decade to diplomatically resolve this dispute. The Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper told bureaucrats to redouble their efforts after the initial case omitted a claim to the North Pole.

This sells Canada's case short of the mark. Canada's lays claim historically -- Britain handed dominion over the Arctic archipelago in the 19th century -- and has scientific evidence to show its continental shelf extends to the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea mass that runs from Ellesmere Island, near the Pole and beyond.

Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark all are claiming some interest in Arctic seabed, which is believed to hold a quarter of the world's untapped fossil fuel reserves. Global warming increases the potential to develop the resources. That has spurred other countries' interest in the Arctic, none so much as Russia. In 2007, it sent a submarine to the North Pole and planted a canister containing the Russian flag on the seabed.

Further, the United States has asserted the fabled Northwest Passage is not an internal Canadian passage, but an international waterway. As the ice melts, the seaway can become commercially viable.

The UN will judge the claims against the Convention of the Law of the Sea, which lets countries extend territorial control beyond a 200-mile limit, according to the reach of their continental shelf.

Russia and Norway are expected to put dibs on the Pole. As the Arctic dispute is adjudicated -- it is expected to take years at the UN -- the federal government plans to expand its claim with further evidence. Canada is the target of all comers largely because it has history, including uninterrupted habitation and use of the Arctic, and science on its side. No other country can be allowed to set the bar in what is an existential argument for Canada. Laying claim to the North Pole, bureaucrats should be reminded, is central to that.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A12

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