Letter to Harper’s Magazine

To the Editor:

McKenzie Funk’s description of the latest Canadian efforts to claim ownership in the Arctic was interesting to read in light of recent reports from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center that the polar ice cap has receded to record lows and may completely disappear by summer 2030. Readers may be interested to know that these efforts to establish sovereignty are not a new phenomenon, however. In addition to the police outposts mentioned, established in the 1920’s to monitor foreign whaling, the Cold War also saw Ottawa rush to stake a claim to the north. This resulted in the 1953 forced relocation of three Inuit families from northern Quebec to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, where they struggled to survive in an unfamiliar habitat so that Canada could claim permanent civilian occupancy. Promised housing and return transportation should conditions not be to their liking, the Inuit were instead left on a barren beach and refused a trip home. The group eventually learnt to track game in the area, and today some 140 persons call Grise Fiord home. Nevertheless, an enquiry later termed the relocation “one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Canada.” The government paid $10 million CAD to the survivors and their families, but has yet to apologize. I can only hope my government’s current policies on the North now better consider its traditional inhabitants, not just the area’s economic or strategic potential.

Matt C
Montreal, Quebec