Forty Years of Canadian Sovereignty Assertion in the Arctic, 1947-87


  • N.D. Bankes



DEW Line, International law, Maritime law, Sovereignty, Canadian Arctic, Northwest Passage


Threats of objections to Canadian claims to sovereignty and to the exercise of sovereign rights by Canada in the Arctic Islands was not unchallengeable. Canadian concerns focused on the desire of the United States to establish weather stations in the Arctic with or without Canadian support. By the early 1950s, and with bilateral agreements with the United States on the DEW Line and BMEWS, Canadian terrestrial sovereignty was beyond question. Canadian maritime claims continued to be contested during the balance of the period. These claims have taken the form of functional jurisdiction over pollution, an historic title to the waters of the archipelago and the rejection of an "international" status for the waters of the Northwest Passage. Canadian maritime claims in the Arctic have not been consistently formulated or consistently pursued by the Canadian government during the period due to an evolving international law of the sea and American objections. The Canadian position on functional jurisdiction over pollution has been vindicated by the Law of the Sea Convention, but there continue to be significant doubts as to the status of the archipelagic waters.

Key words: international law, sovereignty, historic title, functional jurisdiction, international straits