Whale showdown at Arctic Council

by Ric Stryde
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 18/97) - Canada's polar affairs ambassador wants the Arctic Canada to adopt new procedures to get around an American veto of marine mammal issues.

The U.S. position was taken in response to recent Canadian Inuit hunts for endangered bowhead whales.

Because the Arctic Council, a panel of eight polar nations, is designed to make decisions by consensus, all members have an effective veto. Ambassador Mary Simon, however, said a simple majority should suffice.

Canada permits aboriginal whale hunts without a quota from the International Whaling Commission, the group that monitors the state of whales throughout the world.

Because of Canadian actions, U.S. President Bill Clinton was forced to either levy trade sanctions, or refuse to talk about "marine mammals" at any upcoming meetings, said Robert Senseney, chief of polar affairs, for the U.S. Department of State.

"The president has directed us to not allow it to be on the agenda," said Senseney. "If Canada is going to continue in whaling then it should rejoin the IWC."

"The IWC was set up to regulate commercial whaling. We banned it in 1972. Ten years later Canada decided there was no reason to remain in the IWC," said Simon.

She added that aboriginal groups consider the IWC an "anti-whaling" group and the Canadian government took that into consideration, when it withdrew.

The absence of the issue of whaling does not seem to bother the American government. "It doesn't seem to me that the absence of this issue will harm the effectiveness of the Arctic Council," said Senseney.

Simon disagrees. "The big part of the Arctic Council (policies) for sustainable development is marine mammals," she said. "There are a lot of other issues, but it's a big part."

She added that the other countries "do not agree with the U.S."

The next Arctic Council meeting, with or without whales, is scheduled for this October in Yellowknife.