‘Whisky war’ with Denmark over small Arctic island ends peacefully with deal

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has reached a historic agreement with Denmark, settling a dispute that dates back five decades over a 1.3 square kilometer island in the Arctic.

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has reached a historic agreement with Denmark, settling a dispute that dates back five decades over a 1.3 square kilometer island in the Arctic.

Joly and Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod on Tuesday signed an agreement to divide Hans Island, an uninhabited rock located between Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, and Greenland, a self-governing Danish territory.

The island has been the subject of fifty years of diplomatic disputes between the two nations, as it lies within the territorial waters of both.

Joly hailed the signing as a ‘historic day’, adding that it ends the ‘friendliest of all wars’ which involved the two nations leaving bottles of spirits on the island with little notes one for the other while removing the other’s flags.

After the agreement was signed, the foreign ministers symbolically exchanged bottles of spirits, with notes attached, to end the “whiskey war”.

Joly said the deal means Canada and Denmark could both plant their “same color” flags on the “small but important Arctic island”.

She said the dispute has kept 26 former Canadian foreign ministers busy and its peaceful resolution shows that nations can resolve territorial disputes “peacefully”.

In a pointed reference to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Joly said the deal with Denmark was made “at a very important time in our history because we know that authoritarian leaders believe they can … draw borders by force”.

In another reference to Russia, she said that by reaching an agreement, “Canada, Denmark and Greenland are sending a clear message to other Arctic states” that differences can be resolved through peaceful diplomacy. .

The sovereignty agreement for Tartupaluk — the Inuit name for the island — follows consultations with the Inuit of Nunavut and Greenland.

They will maintain hunting rights and freedom of movement on the island which has been their hunting grounds for centuries.

The agreement, Joly confirmed, also led to new negotiations on freedom of movement for Inuit living in Greenland and Nunavut, to make it easier for them to visit friends and family.

The Prime Minister of Greenland, who also signed the agreement, said that “the border on Tartupaluk…will mark the beginning of closer partnership and cooperation between us in areas of common interest and particularly beneficial to the Inuit”.

Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idlout said she thinks Hans Island should be officially renamed Tartupaluk.

“The Inuit have long used Hans Island as a gathering point for hunting,” she said. “We are happy that the rights of the Inuit have been protected so that they can maintain their freedom of movement and their traditional way of life.

Kofod said the signing marked “a historic day”.

“We have been discussing the sovereignty of Tartupaluk for more than 50 years. After intensified negotiations over the past few years, we have now reached a solution,” he said.

“Our efforts demonstrate our strong shared commitment to the peaceful resolution of international disputes. I hope our negotiation and the spirit of this agreement can inspire others.”

The agreement means that Canada, for the first time, shares a land border with Denmark.

Asked if this could mean Canada could now qualify to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest, Joly joked that because Canada now has “a border” with the EU, Canada could ask to join the European singing competition.

The dispute over the tiny island has led to good-natured jostling since the 1980s between Canada and Denmark over which country is its rightful owner.

In 1984, Canada planted a flag on the island and left behind a bottle of Canadian whiskey.

Later that year, the Danish Minister for Greenland Affairs visited by helicopter, planting a Danish flag. He also left a bottle of aquavit, a Danish spirit, at the base of the mast and is said to have left a note saying “welcome to the Danish island”.

In 1988, a Danish Arctic Ocean patrol boat arrived and built a cairn with a mast and a Danish flag on the island.

Then, in 2001, Canadian geologists mapping northern Ellesmere Island flew there by helicopter.

In 2005, Defense Minister Bill Graham walked around Hans Island in a symbolic gesture. A week before he set foot there, the Canadian Forces placed a Canadian flag and plaque on the island, prompting a protest from Denmark, which called the Canadian ambassador.

The two countries then agreed to reopen negotiations on the island, with former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying it was “time to stop the flag war”.

The countries agreed to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for resolution if they failed to reach an agreement.

Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal said Canada and Denmark share a rich and cooperative history, and “it’s normal, and it’s only a matter of time, that a fair solution like this be found, based on both practicality and compromise”.

The agreement also resolved a disagreement between the two countries over maritime boundaries on the continental shelf.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said the deal was “a demonstration of how countries that are sound members of our international system can work together to resolve disputes around borders. international”.

“Few things are more sacrosanct in maintaining international order than making sure we respect each other’s international borders,” Chong said.

After signing the agreement, Joly presented his Danish counterpart with a bottle of Sortilege Prestige, a Canadian whiskey and maple syrup liqueur made in Quebec, while Minister Kofod presented Joly with a bottle of Gammel Dansk Bitter Dram.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 14, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press



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