Havelka and Manicom versus Bottrill and Bumgardner in the debate over Arctic sovereignty. JUNAID IMRAN/THE MEDIUM

The UTM Debating Club hosted the Great Professors’ Debate on Tuesday evening to discuss the role of Canada in the dispute over Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

Four professors were invited. VP Internal Robert Zeredynski, who did the most of the organizing of the event, introduced the topic and the debaters. In favour of an increased military role were professors Terry Bottrill of the Earth science department and Justin Bumgardner of the political science department, and in favour of international cooperation were professors Monika Havelka from the geography department and James Manicom of U of T’s Monk School of Foreign Affairs.

Each speaker was allotted seven minutes to present their arguments, and each team was given an extra three minutes afterwards for one of their members to give rebuttals and closing remarks.

First, Havelka made a plea for the federal government to consider the Arctic’s environmental concerns and the rights of the indigenous Inuit. The Inuit constitute over 50% of the Arctic population. Enlightening the audience about issues of climate change and the effects of UV radiation on Arctic biodiversity and skin cancer rates in residents, Havelka argued that environmental and political concerns should be put ahead of militarizing the far north.

Bottrill acknowledged Havelka’s position that the Arctic was a sensitive area, but argued that as the “frozen wasteland” thaws, the other seven nations in the group known as the “Arctic Powers” (namely, the US, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), and even powerful non-Arctic nations (such as China), pose a danger to the Arctic because the world is running out of easily accessible oil reserves, making the untapped resources a lucrative prize many may seek to exploit—and thereby damage the environment.

Bottrill argued that Canada is doing a better job of protecting the environment than would a free-for-all, and because the terms of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea are unclear, it would require militarization to enforce Canada’s territorial claim.

Manicom countered that military hostility would not solve the problem, and that treaties were already making Arctic protection more plausible; he cited a recent trilateral submission by Canada, Denmark, and Russia to UNCLOS regarding the limits and extents of each state’s continental shelf, territorial sea, and EEZ boundaries.

Another transnational response to the issue he noted was that of “stewardship of the North”, whereby the Inuit of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia work together to manage polar bear populations and other endangered species in this fragile ecosystem. Manicom argued that by displaying hostility instead of cooperation, the opportunity for Canadian scientists, researchers, and environmentalists to collaborate with their peers in other Arctic nations would be put at risk, and even more hostility would be provoked.

Lastly, Bumgardner articulated his stance that the Northwest Passage must be clearly established as Canadian territorial waters, lest other Arctic and developing nations see the Northwest Passage as an international strait that any ship should be free to transit. Bumgardner noted that the Arctic seabed is a mineral resource that could be distributed among northern nations, and to prevent that, Canada would need to make a show of its jurisdictional rights by dispatching more icebreakers and building deep-water ports to establish a permanent military presence in the Arctic.

“Use it or lose it,” Bumgardner said, citing the ominous existence of Russian nuclear icebreakers apparently built for the Arctic as evidence that Canada needs to beef up its presence and get UNCLOS to clearly define its jurisdiction.

During rebuttals, Botrril denied the opposition’s suggestion that the Arctic nations could cooperate in the North indefinitely, while Manicom countered that the Russian and Chinese “threats” his opponents referred to were mere scaremongering.

In a closing remark, Bottrill said he was pleased that the debate created what he dubbed a “cross-fertilization of departments”.

Training directors Matthew Lozinski and Luke Sawczak served as judges of the event, posing questions to both debating panels, summing up the debate, and announcing the winning team, decided by secret ballot.

“Clearly, both sides care about the environment, the Inuit, and the general safety of the Arctic,” said Sawczak. “The real question is, who does it better: Canada or international collaboration?”

By a vote of 28 to 18, the majority of the audience was persuaded by the argument that Canada was best in charge of the Arctic and that we need to militarize the Arctic to establish our right to it.

After the debate there was a reception and mixer. Rahab Rane, VP Finance, said she was pleased that faculty debates allow professors from different fields to tackle the most significant interdisciplinary issues facing the world. She echoed Bottrill, saying that they offer a “vibrant forum of exchange…an academic, cultural and professional hub where leading research is announced and discussed, and lively debates are hosted and encouraged”.