This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Good Friends, Best Enemies

Good Friends, Best Enemies 

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
"Is this overkill? Absolutely. Absolutely overkill."
"It's quite disturbing when you have fishermen on the water, doing their job, providing for their families ... and they're being harassed."
"Canadian fishermen are being harassed by U.S. border patrol. As far as I'm concerned, it needs to stop immediately."
Rick Doucet, New Brunswick fisheries minister

"Border disputes don't go away, they just fester and then something happens. Why wait until it becomes something uglier?"
"[American patrol boats viewing the area as sovereign U.S. waters] they could stop any boats that gave them concern."
Stephen Kelly, former deputy head of mission, U.S. Embassy, Ottawa
"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in international law."
"[The government has engaged with the U.S. agencies involved to investigate the incidents] in Canadian waters." 

"Canada’s sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long standing and has a strong foundation in international law. Until the matter of the boundary is resolved, we will continue to take practical steps with the U.S. to ensure that the area is well managed."
"Canada and the U.S. have a long history of cooperation which ensures that fishing in this area in well-managed and safe for both countries."

John Babcock, spokesman, Global Affairs Canada
Still from video   Global News

The territory in dispute is tiny Machias Seal Island, no more than an insignificant rock outcropping where fishermen from Maine and New Brunswick and occasionally Nova Scotia compete for the aquatic food resources available to enterprising fishermen. For the most part the competition between the two in what is considered to be a 'grey' zone, where both Canada and the United States claim territorial ownership of the island is low key. On some occasions a flare-up of tensions occur.

And one of those flare-ups is occurring on this disputed border area between Canada and its southern neighbour. Of late, it seems, American patrol vessels have stopped and boarded Canadian fishing boats around Machias Seal Island located between New Brunswick and Maine; that windblown outcropping that brings to mind Russia and Japan squabbling over other absurdly minuscule outcroppings in the Pacific that each claims possession of.

New Brunswick's fisheries minister is steaming after having been informed by fishermen of "heavily armed" border patrol agents stopping lobster boats -- some ten Canadian boats in number to date -- boarding them and informing the fishermen that they were searching for the presence of illegal immigrants. The minister's own riding includes Grand Manan Island, the base for the Canadian boats.

According to the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, it is their understanding that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol approached "a few" Canadian fishermen belonging to the Association in the 165-square-kilometre zone under dispute. "Our understanding is that this was part of a regular exercise being conducted along the U.S. marine border", they stated, making note of previously "respectful and cordial" relations with U.S. counterparts.

However, Laurence Cook, the association's lobster fishing committee's chair, wrote an outspoken opinion of his own of the attempt to stop Grand Manan fisherman Nick Brown by the U.S. border patrol: "He informed them he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters. Right answer Nick. Typical American bullies. Proud of Nick, not surprised to see the Americans trying to push people around."

As for the claim by the U.S. patrol that it was searching for the presence of illegal immigrants, that was "bulls--t". The island itself is a unique home to scores of puffins. It is not the minuscule Machias Seal Island that is the trophy, but rather the encircling ocean hosting a generous bounty of lobsters. A lighthouse built and operated by Canada sits on the island. The puffin rookery is overseen by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

A number of border accords, originally dating from 1783 and the latest dating to 1984, in an International Court of Justice hearing failed the resolve the issue of territorial ownership of Machias Seal Island its waters. This is not, of course, the only area claimed by the Government of Canada to represent sovereign Canadian territory that is countered by the United States. The famed Northwest Passage in the Arctic is yet another such contested territory.

With the opening up of Arctic waters as a result of climate change and the melting of the icepack it is becoming increasingly obvious that new shipping lanes will soon be available as a result of the receding ice. These new shipping lines will be invaluable to expediting commercial shipping. Canada's historic claim to territorial ownership of the Northwest Passage received a rude blow in 1985 when the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, Polar Sea began navigating through the passage neglecting to advise Canada, much less ask permission.

That routine resupply mission was interpreted by Canada as a threat to its sovereignty; at best it was an undiplomatic slap alongside the head of the Dominion by the great Republic; longtime neighbours ruffling feathers by ill considered neglect. The take-home message was the U.S. blithely and deliberately encroaching on Canadian territory in the Arctic; a casual insult. The atmosphere of that unsettled lack of recognition by the U.S. of Canadian Arctic territory remains an unsettled issue.

"Historically, Canadians are hyperallergic to living alongside the U.S., a country ten times our size", noted longtime former Canadian diplomat and government official, Derek Burney. "There’s always been a lot of tension about the borders up into the Arctic. We even had planes flying over [the icebreaker], dropping Canadian flags onto it, just to make a statement." No word whether the amiable Oval Office occupant at the time got the message.

Strangely enough, echoes of aggressively assertive Asian giant China manoeuvring to establish its territorial advantage over its neighbours, claiming both areas in dispute in the South China Sea and those claimed by its neighbours as their sovereign territory. It's tough to negotiate much less assert oneself against an unrepentant bully that feels entitled to claim as its own any entitlement or territory that holds advantageous natural resources.

This map shows the open water of the far north, above the Arctic Circle. Dotted red lines represent the possible routes through the islands for ships. This is the Northwest Passage.

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