Hans Island: Canada to Share Border with Denmark

9 11 2010

The research team from the 2007 joint Canada-Denmark seismic project in Alert.

Canada is likely to have a second land border in the near future — this time with a European country. The 37-year dispute with Denmark over Hans Island, a small, uninhabited knoll located between Ellesmere Island and northern Greenland, is close to being concluded, according to the Danish Defence Minister.

“Our staff are working closely and I hope we can have a solution in the next year. I don’t how we will end up but I have seen positive signs from the Canadians and we are also sending positive signs about a common solution,” said Gitte Lillelund Bech, who met the Canadian Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, in Ottawa last week.

Canada and Denmark are co-operating in many areas of Arctic policy, including joint military operations, sledge patrols and search and rescue missions, after signing a memorandum of understanding about developing their capacity in the region together.

“To some extent it is absurd to be collaborating in other areas and fighting over an island,” said Ms. Bech.

The military on both sides have planted flags on the island. In 2005, the Liberal then-Defence Minister Bill Graham enraged the Danes by visiting the island, provoking the Danish Foreign Office to issue a statement saying it considered Hans Island to be solely Danish territory.

Since then the temperature on the dispute has lowered and both sides have been involved in negotiating a settlement.

Michael Byers, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia with an interest in Arctic issues, said both sides understand that the disagreement concerns only the island itself, not the surrounding waters or sea-bed.

When in August, 64 Danish tourists disembarked, built a cairn and planted a flag, the Canadian response was restrained.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been hawkish on any encroachment on Canada’s Artic sovereignty, downplayed the issue, saying Hans Island is just a one-kilometre square rock in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. He said talks between Canada and Denmark were “progressing well.”

Professor Byers said a solution could take one of two forms – a straight division of the island, which would give Canada a European land border; or, shared sovereignty over the whole island, a situation that has a precedent in an uninhabited island shared by France and Spain.

He said the dispute is important to the extent that it shows Canada is committed to resolving its differences through negotiation. A settlement would create positive momentum for more difficult disputes, such as that over the Beaufort Sea with the United States, he said.

The squabble has provoked a number of satirical responses, such as the website on behalf of the fictional Hans Island Liberation Front, which claims “the people of Hans Island yearn to breathe free from the oppression of Canadian and Danish interlopers.”


Source: National Post


Hans Island (Greenlandic/Inuktitut: Tartupaluk; Danish: Hans Ø; French: Île Hans) is a small, uninhabited barren knoll measuring 1.3 km2 (0.50 sq mi), located in the centre of the Kennedy Channel of Nares Strait—the strait that separates Ellesmere Island from northern Greenland and connects Baffin Bay with the Lincoln Sea. Hans Island is the smallest of three islands located in Kennedy Channel; the others are Franklin Island and Crozier Island. The island has been part of Inuit hunting grounds since before people of European descent were aware of its existence. – Wikipedia


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