Mark Collins – No Tankers off Northern B.C.? Our New Government Provoking Fight With U.S.?

Not so sunny seas ahead for relations with the Obama adminstration? (Yet again one wonders why such an important article is in the Globe and Mail’s business section.)

A tanker ban is the hard way to deal with Northern Gateway

Robert Hage is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and co-author of the 2012 Macdonald-Laurier Institute paper Making Oil And Water Mix

What has not been recognized…is that efforts to ban crude-oil tankers in this area open a Pandora’s box of issues involving the United States: Canada’s historic claims to some of these waters, the unresolved Alaska Panhandle boundary, the passage of U.S. nuclear submarines through Dixon Entrance, innocent passage, freedom of navigation, fishing rights. Yet the new Foreign Affairs Minister was not included in Mr. Garneau’s mandated ministerial consultative group [see “Minister of Transport Mandate Letter“]. 

Since the 1890s, Canadian authorities have maintained that Dixon Entrance (just south of the Alaska Panhandle) and Hecate Strait (east of Haida Gwaii) are historic internal waters of Canada. Under international law, Canada has complete sovereignty over such waters and can legislate at will… 

That the government refrained [in 1971] from sealing off this large area with straight baselines and denying foreign vessels the right of innocent passage was likely to avoid provoking the United States, which has been consistent in protesting against Canadian actions affecting what it regards as its maritime rights on the North Coast.

…The United States, a world maritime power, has been an advocate for the rights of flag states. Even though U.S. tankers carrying crude oil from Alaska to the Lower 48 do not come along B.C.’s North Coast, it is hard to imagine the United States not protesting against a Canadian tanker ban that rests on Canada’s unilateral internal waters claim…

Quite.  And another angle:

…we haven’t even mentioned some of the other legal hassles a bill designed to halt tanker traffic along the West Coast will encounter. For instance, any measure that hinders American oil supplies from reaching communities in the Alaska panhandle is not going to make our U.S. neighbours happy. This is an area, remember, the Americans maintain they have freedom to navigate. They will assuredly take the Canadian government to court and have the support of other countries as well…

Keep much in mind that the US is in a serious dispute with China over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea [“US to Test China’s South China Sea Claims: How Much? Part 2“]; the Americans certainly won’t lie down and accept any Canadian actions that could be seen to weaken US positions on the interpretation and implementation of international maritime law.

That internal waters issue also resonates in terms of Canada’s claims regarding the Northwest Passage–see here and article 3. here (more on now-Prof. James Kraska).

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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One thought on “Mark Collins – No Tankers off Northern B.C.? Our New Government Provoking Fight With U.S.?”

  1. Good points but this part of the second article is wrong.

    >”For instance, any measure that hinders American oil supplies from reaching communities in the Alaska panhandle is not going to make our U.S. neighbours happy.”

    The ban is on crude and bitumen not all petroleum products. So heating oil, gas et would still be able to travel those waters. The BC coast is lousy with small tankers doing that.

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