Canada submits its Arctic Ocean claim to the United Nations

Minister says move is “a major step forward in ensuring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty”

This map shows the outer limits of Canada’s continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. The map is part of Canada’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, called this “a major step forward in ensuring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.” (Image courtesy of the Government of Canada)

By Jane George

Canada is laying claim to 1.2 million square kilometres of seabed and subsoil in the Arctic Ocean—including the North Pole.

The case for this claim is laid out in 2,100 data-packed pages, filed with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Thursday, May 23.

In a news release, Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, called the submission “a major step forward in ensuring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

Global Affairs Canada said it was “a critical step to fully define the map of Canada.”

The submission is the first step in a process set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, generally referred to by its abbreviation, UNCLOS, to obtain international recognition of the ownership of the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

Scientists believe there could be huge oil, natural gas and mineral reserves under these polar waters.

In 2003, Canada became party to the UNCLOS and embarked on a project to define the outer limits of its continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean.

In 2013, Canada filed a partial submission on its continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.

The summary of Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf at United Nations headquarters in New York is under 50 pages, but still full of scientific data to back up Canada’s claim.

Determining the outer Arctic limits was not easy, notes the executive summary of the May 23 submission.

Canada faced the challenge of collecting data “in areas that are ice-covered, difficult to access, and, in most instances, had not been previously surveyed,” it said.

Work started in 2006 and finished in 2016, and “the windows of opportunity for data collection in the Arctic Ocean are short and difficult due to perennial sea ice cover, weather and reduced sunlight.”

During that period, Canada collaborated on 17 expeditions with the United States, Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

“Innovative use of technologies was also critical to enable collection of data in this harsh environment,” the summary said.

Under the UNCLOS, nations with Arctic Ocean coastlines like Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark and Norway, can claim offshore seabed territory beyond the 200-nautical-mile limit if they can prove underwater geology shows the seabed is actually an extension of their land base, the continental shelf.

But the limit does not represent a political boundary and Canada’s submission overlaps in some areas with the submissions of other Arctic Ocean coastal states.

“All Arctic Ocean coastal states have committed to resolving continental shelf overlaps in a peaceful and orderly manner in accordance with international law,” Global Affairs said.

Michael Byers, an international law professor at UBC, said in a statement circulated on social media that “Canada’s submission “is reasonable and restrained.”

“It does not include the entire Lomonosov Ridge, and stays well away from Russia’s exclusive economic zone,” he said.

In 2014, Inuit called for more input into the UNCLOS claim.

While the submission summary does not mention Inuit, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, said “defining our continental shelf is vital to ensuring our sovereignty and to serving the interests of all people, including Indigenous peoples, in the Arctic.”

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(5) Comments:

  1. Posted by Claim Jumper on

    As legal counsel for the ravens of Nunavut I claim ownership of the entire northern hemisphere on their behalf, because their ancestors were here long before any humans existed.

    • Posted by Snowy Owl on

      This raven’s claim to sovereignty in the north is cute. But it’s also based on good understanding of how law is evolving in some jurisdictions toward environmental rights (not just rights of people to an environment that supports them; rights of nature itself to be functionally and enforceably respected by people). Also, “sovereignty” is proven by presence and ability to control. Ravens are clever survivors even in places humans can’t make it – to this extent the ravens’ claim to sovereignty is backed by evidence.

  2. Posted by Tim Lash on

    Submission of this Arctic Ocean claim is itself a laudable achievement, based on 10 years and more of difficult data collection in order to fulfill the requirements of forward-looking international governance, as they are set out today. The effect is to extend the northward reach of Canadian voters’ responsibilities and rights. Three thoughts, in this climate crisis:
    1. The article below notes only the extension of Rights, e.g. public rights to own and to control the exploitation of subsurface minerals and petroleum, and the use of the waters. The move also extends the Responsibilities of Canadian voters, and of our governments, to other Canadians and to the global community. Responsibilities for understanding, restoring and maintaining ecological integrity. Social responsibilities.
    2. The Rights will be shaped by Canadian votes and exercised by and through the structures of corporations and of other national governments. Fulfilling the Responsibilities will take care, knowledge, consultation, and public money. These should be funded through the cooperative social structures and the taxes and royalties that govern the exploitation of minerals and the use of the waters.
    3. The climate crisis is complicating and sharpening the conflicts and challenges in Arctic Ocean governance, for Canada and for other people in the world. Canadians have to become better, wiser and more involved participants in global governance. Ready?

  3. Posted by INUK on

    Better back it up , with muscle , because the russians are rebuidling their outposts and military bases in the arctic, and if no one is looking , their look to steal whats underneth

  4. Posted by James Laporte on

    Canada should claim all of Lomonosov Ridge as all of Lincoln Shelf is a extension of Ellesmere Island & therefore a Extension of Canada Arctic Mountain Range! All of Lincoln Shelf should be returned to Canada Control regardless of pre agreed Line drawn on ice before land Formations known as is the Case Now!
    Just a tired dying old mans thoughts!

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