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Arctic Sovereignty and its Legal Significance for Canada

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Document pages: 20 pages

Abstract: Throughout much of the Twentieth Century there was an ongoing debate within Canada as to the status of its territorial claims in the Arctic. Following the voyage of the SS Manhattan in 1969 that debate was joined to also encompass consideration of Canadian Arctic maritime sovereignty. With the exception of the disputed Hans Island, over which Canada and Denmark have agreed to disagree, there is no direct challenge to Canadian Arctic sovereignty in 2013. Nevertheless, it has been a persistent theme in Canadian academic and political discourse for much of the past decade that Canada’s Arctic sovereignty is threatened. Canada, along with all of the Arctic states, is also beginning to face the reality that the Arctic is facing rapid globalization partly as a result of climate change and the melting of the Arctic ice but also because of the growing interest of non-Arctic states in accessing the Arctic. This paper seeks to challenge some of the perceptions that have developed with respect to Canadian Arctic sovereignty from the perspective of international law. Consideration will be given to the status of Canada’s territorial and maritime claims in the Arctic, and the rights and obligations that Canada has in the Arctic as a party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC). Particular attention will be given to Canada’s claims to an Arctic outer continental shelf, the regulation and management of the Northwest Passage, and the freedoms of navigation enjoyed by non-Arctic states within Canada’s exclusive economic zone.

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