Iceland has joined Arctic indigenous leaders in expressing displeasure over Canada's decision to host a March meeting on Arctic sovereignty in Quebec without input from participants of the multinational Arctic Council.
Canada's federal Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon recently announced that he will host a meeting of foreign ministers from the Arctic Ocean coastal countries of Norway, Russia, Denmark (which includes Greenland) and the United States on March 29 in Chelsea, Que.
The leaders will discuss ways to pursue responsible economic development in the North in advance of the G8 foreign ministers' meeting in Gatineau, Que.
Discussions about Arctic issues are usually held at the Arctic Council, which has representatives from eight governments and northern indigenous groups.
But Iceland's foreign affairs minister Össur Skarphéðinsson said all members of the Arctic Council — including Iceland, Finland and Sweden — should have been invited to the Quebec meeting.
The three countries were left off the list because the so-called Arctic 5 is limited to countries that border on the Arctic Ocean and can so make sovereign claims to areas of Arctic seabed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Össur said having the talks without all of the stakeholders is a mistake.
"I'm displeased about this," he said. "I think this is the wrong way, I think Canada should rather try to build up consensus and solid support among all the eight Arctic Council countries."
Aboriginal groups angered
Iceland is the latest Arctic stakeholder to express displeasure over the inclusiveness of the Arctic 5 meeting.
The five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean first met in Greenland in 2008, prompting protest from Arctic indigenous groups who worried Canada and the other four countries were creating a separate body from the Arctic council.
The Greenland meeting upset indigenous groups enough that the Inuit Circumpolar Council spearheaded the signing in 2009 of a Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Arctic Sovereignty asserting the rights of Arctic peoples.
Last week, the Yukon-based Arctic Athabaskan Council and the Inuit Circumpolar Council said they planned to lobby the federal government to include them in the Quebec meeting.
Michael Byers, an international relations professor at the University of British Columbia, said he is pleased to see Canada taking the lead on Arctic international diplomacy, but added that it would also be diplomatic to invite the three other Arctic Council nations and indigenous groups.
"Any group of countries can meet as they wish, anywhere at any time," Byers told CBC News.
"But there is here certainly a risk here that Iceland, Sweden and Finland will feel snubbed."
Byers, who is also a project leader with the federally funded scientific consortium ArcticNet, suggested in an op-ed piece in the Edmonton Journal last week that all members of the G8 — including Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France — should be involved in discussions of the Arctic.
Byers suggested indigenous groups and Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden could then be invited as guests.