Nunavut-Greenland relations in decline

GN delegation fails to gain end of seal skin restrictions



Greenland’s ban on Canadian seal skins is just the latest symptom of the decline in the relationship between the two countries since the severing of a direct air line five years ago, says Kenn Harper, the Danish honorary consul in Iqaluit.

“It’s all well and good that we try to have government-to-government linkages between Canada and Greenland,” Harper said in an interview. “But we need people-to-people and company-to-company linkages,” which is extremely difficult because, short of chartering an aircraft, the only way to travel between the two countries is by taking a long, circuitous route via Copenhagen.

Harper said the seal skin ban, imposed last month after pressure from the Humane Society of the United States “should never have happened,” but noted that commercial and other relationships between Canada and Greenland have been in decline since 2001, when GreenlandAir pulled out of a joint agreement with First Air to provide service between the two countries.

That ended an air link enjoyed by people from both countries for more than 20 years. During that time, Harper said, trade between Canada and Greenland flourished. Merchants from Montreal and Ottawa regularly shipped fresh food and other goods to Greenland, he said. Denmark has now replaced Canada as the source of most food imports, he said.

A direct flight from Iqaluit to Nuuk, Greenland takes just over two hours, compared with a journey that may take several days via, for instance, Montreal or Boston and Copenhagen.

Both countries are also losing out on a brisk tourist trade, with many Greenlanders bypassing Canada and the United States as a vacation destination and Canadians and Americans rarely, if ever, setting foot in Greenland.

On an official level, he said, the countries are growing apart because governments only meet on ceremonial occasions or when there is a crisis. “Where is the co-operative meeting and sharing of information?” he said.

Indeed, a delegation from Nunavut had to travel by chartered aircraft last month when they journeyed to Greenland to discuss the seal skin ban with Greenlandic government officials.

The delegation, which included Premier Paul Okalik, Paul Kaludjak, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Environment Minister Olayuk Akesuk and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, asked Greenlandic Premier Hans Enoksen to reconsider the ban.

But Enoksen and other Greenlandic officials were non-committal, and the Nunavut delegation succeeded only in getting the creation of a working group to talk about the issue.

“Our goal was to reaffirm to Premier Enoksen that Canada’s seal hunt is entirely sustainable and conducted only in the most humane way in all Canadian jurisdictions,” Kaludjak said in statement after returning from Greenland.

Watt-Cloutier said that the seal skin ban has worrisome implications. “While this is not a general restriction, it goes against the spirit and intent of international trade laws. This restriction must not be viewed as a mere local or even regional issue. Rather, it is a matter with international consequences.”

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