North

Cannon defends Arctic summit's guest list

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon is defending his decision to bring five of eight northern nations together at an Arctic sovereignty meeting next month in Quebec.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon is defending his decision to bring five of eight northern nations together at an Arctic sovereignty meeting next month.

Cannon's move to invite foreign affairs ministers from Norway, Russia, Denmark (which includes Greenland) and the United States to the Chelsea, Que., summit on March 29 has angered Iceland, which was excluded.

Discussions about Arctic issues are usually held at the Arctic Council, which has representatives from eight governments and northern indigenous groups.

Iceland's foreign affairs minister, Össur Skarphéðinsson, told CBC News earlier this week that all members of the Arctic Council — including Iceland, Finland and Sweden — should have been invited to the Quebec meeting.

But in an email to CBC News on Wednesday, an official with Cannon's office said the intent of the summit is to focus "on issues of particular relevance to the Arctic Ocean coastal states, generally not dealt with in the Arctic Council."

The official said the meeting is meant to complement the Arctic Council's work.

Leaders from each of the five Arctic coastal countries are trying to extend their sovereign claims over a larger area of the Arctic seabed, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Denmark's foreign minister, who also chairs the Arctic Council, has agreed to debrief the council on the Chelsea talks.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs official said Finland's foreign minister has agreed to that plan.

Northern indigenous organizations have been lobbying to be included in next month's meeting, saying they believe they should be involved in talks about Arctic sovereignty and economic development.

Cannon plans to consult the Arctic Council advisory committee — which includes indigenous groups and the northern territories — in advance of next month's meeting, the official said.

With files from Patricia Bell