Sunday, August 17, 2008


I read somewhere just recently that scientists say this month the fabled "North West Passage" from Europe to Asia will be free of ice for just only the second time in world history.

Lest we forget, this passage is what Christopher Columbus was looking for in 1492 when he set sail from Spain. The North West Passage has been discussed, sought after, and romanticized since man acknowledged that the Earth wasn't flat.

From history class of course we Canadians have learned ad nauseum that...well of course it belongs to us. Doesn't Santa Claus live near Resolute Bay, Nunavut? He even has a Canadian postal code: H0H-0H0. I guess as long as most everything around there was frozen over no one really cared much either for or against Canada's claim.

Not so fast now it seems. Canada may claim the famed North West Passage as our inland waterway, there aren't too many other countries, in fact none I know of, willing to back-up our claim. Since climate change is making it ice free at least for the summer months, and there may be gold...under the ice caps, not to mention of course all the fresh water from the melting ice; there is now a line forming on claims to the passage from Europe to Asia. Many of the claimants, including Russia ans the United States have the resources, the hardware, the resolve and the motivation to make stick, maybe impose, rather forceful claims.

Both those countries, and many others without a direct geographic connection to the North Pole claim at the very least that like any other ocean...the Arctic is an international waterway. Canada is pushing back. If they weren't so important and serious our efforts might be better destined for a "Mad Magazine" satire or a skit on "Saturday Night Live."

It's mid-August. Up north, ice, water, travelling conditions are at the year's best. The Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, and his travelling companion our newly minted Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, embark this week on a tour of the north. They'll visit our minuscule military, weather and police outposts no doubt, and at the very least deliver fresh Maple Leaf flags to the lonely locals.

Meantime, the Coast Guard and several scientists from Environment Canada are setting off to begin an official search for the remains of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition believed lost near King Williams Island in 1845. As far fetched as it is, Canada's government believes if the remains of Captain Franklin's ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are recovered some ground may be gained in the Court of World Opinion (Probably nowhere else) as to a British North American claim against the passage.

In 1845, Franklin, his two ships, and a crew of about 160 were on their 4th mission to lay claim to the passage for the British Monarchy when HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became stuck in ice. Ultimately the Captain, the crew and both ships vanished from the face of the earth.

Canada neither has a warship nor an icebreaker capable of navigating the waters of the North West Passage on a year round basis. Pitted against a Russian and an American nuclear powered fleet, including submarines which no doubt surreptitiously sail the passage regularly without our knowledge, the Court of World Opinion may indeed be our one hope.

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