YCISS to explore Arctic sovereignty and governance

The York Centre for International & Security Studies (YCISS) along with the Canadian International Council (CIC) will explore the political issues facing the Arctic at an upcoming discussion, titled "Canada and the Arctic: A Panel Discussion on Arctic Sovereignty", on Thursday, March 6.

The debate, part of the YCISS Contemporary Dilemmas in Canadian Security series, will take place from 7 to 9pm at the Marriott Bloor-Yorkville, 90 Bloor St. East, Toronto. Admission is free.

A leading Canadian expert on Arctic sovereignty, Michael Byers (right), a professor at the University of British Columbia and the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and  International Law, will open the discussion with a talk about the current issues plaguing the Arctic. Byers is the author of the recently-published book Intent for a Nation: What is Canada For? (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007) and War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005).

The pressures of environmental change and increasing economic activity is affecting sovereignty and governance in the Arctic, which has led to debates amongst states, multinational corporations and northern communities about how this region should be managed. Canada’s position is that it has sovereignty over the Northwest Passage and it is investing heavily in military resources to demonstrate it has control.

York political science professor Martin Shadwick, a well-known scholar of Canada’s defence and security policy and a research associate with YCISS, will debate the issues raised by Byers.

"There are basically three main issues – sovereignty, security and stewardship, with protection of the ecosystem falling under stewardship. These three issues have been around for quite some time, but they come into the public consciousness in a cyclical way," says Shadwick. "The media attracts attention to these issues and that rankles Canadian nerves. You get a flurry of responses from government, then the topic goes back into hibernation, and sovereignty, security and stewardship get lost in the shuffle. This happens every 10 to 15 years."

With the continued threat of global warming, Shadwick says those issues can no longer be pushed aside. "A lot of these are old issues, but their importance and magnitude are that much greater today and we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. We need to ask, how are we going to use or not use the military or other government departments, and where will the First Nation’s people fit in because they are going to feel the effects first."

That is where the debate comes in, deciding how to tackle these issues, from sticking a Canada Post mailbox in the Arctic to signal sovereignty to using a surveillance satellite. "It becomes how to best do these three things and how much can be done unilaterally or multi-laterally. Some say we should put substantial investment in the military. Others say that’s not the way to go as it would militarize the Arctic," says Shadwick.

Either way, Shadwick says something has to be done now and the whole of government, including territorial governments and First Nation’s people need to be involved. The government needs to come up with a short-, medium- and long-term plan.

"The conference gives us the opportunity to air these issues and debate the pros and cons of them," he says.

Shadwick is the former editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly. He is particularly interested in the military and Canadian society, strategic studies, and the relationship between the military and non-military roles of the Canadian Armed Forces such as search and rescue, disaster relief and fisheries protection.

Representatives of the federal government will also join the discussion.

YCISS considers this an important debate that will have a long-lasting impact on Canada’s place in the world. A question and answer session will follow.

An organized research unit, YCISS is also a Department of National Defence Security & Defence Forum (SDF) Centre of Expertise which strives to take an expansive view of the nature of security in the contemporary world.

CIC is a non-partisan, nationwide council established to strengthen Canada’s role in international affairs. It aims to advance research and dialogue on international affairs issues by supporting a Canadian foreign policy network that crosses academic disciplines, policy areas and economic sectors.

For more information, visit the YCISS Web site.