The Globe & Mail has an interesting editorial on the Parks Canada expedition to find the wreckages of three lost ships in the Northwest Passage, which I wrote about last week. The expedition has already discovered the HMS Expedition shipwreck, which had been missing for 150 years. The editorial quotes Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who said,
“This vessel has been discovered here immediately adjacent to a Canadian national park. It’s obviously an element of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.”
Never mind that the HMS Investigator flew under the British flag.
The editorial goes on to say that the discovery of the doomed ships’ remains “would excite public interest in Canada’s North, and build public support for the government’s strenuous assertion of Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic.”
Prentice’s statements about the shipwreck reveal the lengths governments will go to make claims towards establishing sovereignty over a scrap of land. Canada was up in arms when Russia planted a flag beneath the North Pole in 2007. Now, Ottawa is claiming that a ship which sunk in the 19th century helps solidify its claims to sovereignty because it demonstrates a relatively long Canadian presence in those waters. Yet if the territory issue were simply one of “who was there first,” by this logic, the waters should revert to the Inuit, who have been there for several thousand more years than any one else.
CNN International provides a more global, or at the very least, bilateral, angle on this story. It quotes the head of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada, Marc Andre-Bernier. He said that Canada and the UK are “‘working collaboratively’ on ‘what to do with the site and its artifacts.'” CNN states that he went on to say “that the find represents part of a common heritage,” and that “It’s part of world history.”
Certainly, the shipwrecks are part of Canadian, British, and world history – yet whether they help defend Canada’s claims that the Northwest Passage constitutes internal waters is highly debatable, and perhaps even laughable.