Canada skips Arctic Council meetings in Russia

Canada skips Arctic Council meetings in Russia
A member of Greenpeace protests Arctic Council meetings in Yellowknife in March, which were closed to the public.Diego Creimer.

Skipping out on meetings supposed to address black carbon and methane emissions in Moscow, Canada decided to take a “principled stand” against Russia by boycotting the Arctic Council gathering last week.

Arctic Council chair and federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced last week that Canada would not be attending the three days of working group meetings because of Russia’s military presence in Ukraine.

“As a result of Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine and its continued provocative actions in Crimea and elsewhere, Canada did not attend working-group-level meetings in Moscow this week. Canada will continue to support the important work of the Arctic Council,” Aglukkaq said in a statement.

Ottawa said the decision to avoid the meetings builds upon its “tough stance” against the occupation, including sanctions and travel bans.

Representatives from all eight Arctic Council member states, including a Russian delegation, attended senior official meetings in Yellowknife last month, where officials were adamant that Russian military action in Crimea would not affect circumpolar cooperation.

That seems to have changed with Canada’s latest move, which Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington believes could make the situation in Ukraine worse and threaten the efficacy of the Arctic Council.

“What Canada’s done is at the very best premature,” he said. “You could look at it as engaging a region into a conflict that really is just the wrong thing to do. The whole emphasis is to continue to work for international cooperation in the Arctic. A requirement of that is Russian participation, and without that, that situation can only escalate militarily. Canada’s widening the conflict here.”

He said the issues of black carbon and methane are critical ones for Canada to be involved in addressing, considering they are linked to the oil and gas industry, from extraction to flaring.

“The issue needs that participation. Canada’s just picking absolutely the wrong target here,” Bevington said. “We’re engaged with Russia in this particular area, it’s an important area to be working on, and Canada removing itself – the chairman of the Arctic Council removing themselves – from participation I think is…at worst, completely wrongheaded.”

Aglukkaq’s announcement came a day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper blamed Russia for the separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, following weeks of imposed sanctions and halted bilateral activities between Canada and Russia’s army. Harper is also seen to be leading international efforts to have Russia kicked out of the G8.

Bevington said last week’s move calls into question Canada’s chairmanship, as the decision was made without the consensus of the rest of the Arctic Council.

“Wouldn’t you think the chairman of an organization would be responsible to test the waters of the whole organization? Is the chair relinquishing her duties here by not taking a position that matches with the rest of the Arctic Council?”

Bevington said. “By being chair of the Arctic Council, you’re committing to consensus development in your actions.”

Arctic committee looks into council snub

The international standing committee of Arctic Parliamentarians is following up with the Arctic Council over a recent refusal to let the committee present to senior council officials at their latest meetings in Yellowknife.

Bevington, who serves as vice chair of the standing committee of elected Arctic officials, attended the senior Arctic Council official meetings as an observer, but for the first time in the history of the council was unable to address the meeting.

“We asked for an opportunity to give a report, and it was refused,” Bevington said.

The standing committee, which predates the Arctic Council, sent a letter to Aglukkaq outlining its concerns.

Aglukkaq was invited to the last meeting of the Arctic Parliamentarians, where she was given an hour to address the elected officials and answer questions.

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