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ICC will lobby Axworthy during Nuuk junket

Officials from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference will get a rare chance to sit face-to-face with Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy this weekend.

By JANE GEORGE

MONTREAL — Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Lloyd Axworthy, plans to pay a courtesy call in Nuuk this Saturday at the invitation of Greenland’s premier, Jonathan Motzfeldt.

The visit kicks off a week-long jaunt that will also bring Axworthy to a Nordic-Baltic foreign ministers’ meeting in Iceland and a Canada-European Union meeting in Finland.

“Canada has been reviewing its northern foreign policy with the aim of improving cooperation between northern nations,” said Axworthy in a prepared release announcing his trip. “These visits and meetings present timely opportunities to pursue that agenda and ensure we work together on the distinctive issues of the North.”

The stopover in Nuuk is expected to lead to closer cultural and economic ties between Canada and Greenland.

Axworthy plans to meet with representatives of the Greenland home rule government and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

But, according to officials in Ottawa, Axworthy is not expected to sign any formal agreements and his visit to Greenland is seen as more symbolic of Canada’s interest than substantial.

Axworthy’s presence in Nuuk still provides a golden opportunity for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to advance its agenda.

“We don’t often see many foreign ministers from the Arctic states visiting us,” said ICC President Aqqaluk Lynge, who was reached in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. “Canada, along with Denmark, supports what the ICC is doing, but not at all levels, of course, and not with enough money.”

Lynge intends to raise the issue of Canada-Greenland youth exchanges with Axworthy. He said that Axworthy promised to support such an initiative at the Arctic Council meeting held last September in Iqaluit.

“We agreed that we will work with the Canadian government to start an internship program for Inuit youth who will go to Greenland and work with us,” said Lynge. “I hope it will happen as soon as possible, so we can collaborate on what priorities we should have for youth and also open up the eyes of young Inuit to participation in international issues.”

The renewal of the Canada-ICC project that provided relief to native peoples in Russia will also be discussed.

ICC has a long list of other issues that it would like Axworthy to advance during his meetings with the other Nordic and European Union nations.

ICC will urge Axworthy to muster official support from the other Nordic countries that he plans to visit, so that Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway will act as a united front to calling for changes to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act and other trade barriers in Europe that forbid or limit the importation of sealskin or sealskin products.

“We are going to take the question up and see whether Canada is going to take this ahead,” said Lynge.

In early September, Canada, and other nations, will be also asked to back a new United Nations protocol to curb persistant organic pollutants, some of the major sources of contamination in Inuit country foods.

This protocol is intended to be legally binding and much more global in its scope than any other to date.

The ICC wants to see a strong wording and financial commitment in this protocol, so that there will be better monitoring and enforcement.

“Contaminants are a very big issue,” said Canada’s ICC vice-president Sheila Watt-Cloutier. “And it’s going to be important to ensure that Canada continues to play a key role.”

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