Hillary Clinton’s position on the Falklands this week provides Canada with an opportunity to right an old wrong imposed by the United States just over a century ago. The American Secretary of State encouraged Argentina and Britain to sit down and talk about their claims and the future of these tiny islands, much to the chagrin of the Brits whose position has been no-way unless the islands’ inhabitants agree to such negotiations. Since Clinton is so gung-ho on talking, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should insist that the Americans look to their own backyard and re-open the issue over the Alaskan panhandle. Canadians who know their history appreciate that blatant travesty of justice this old border dispute represents.
Let me refresh your memory. Around the time of the Yukon Gold Rush, the exact location of the Alaskan border with Canada was fuzzy. As men and equipment poured across the panhandle on their way to the Klondike, it became an issue. Finally in 1903 Britain and the U.S. came to an agreement on how to settle the precise location of the boundary — three judges representing Canada and three representing the U.S. would be appointed by their corresponding countries to settle the dispute once and for all.
Theodore Roosevelt, the cowboy president, was busy overseeing the expansion of U.S. imperialism (Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines) with the support of his big stick. Not surprisingly, he took the sensitive stance that Canada’s position, “is an outrage, pure and simple. They have no more right to the land in question than they have to Maine.” In that spirit of impartiality, the U.S. appointed three politicians who had no doubts as to whose cause was just. In fact one of them, Elihu Root, was the Secretary of War. Root’s appointment was entirely appropriate considering that Roosevelt had secretly informed Britain that if the resolution didn’t go his way, he would “ask Congress for permission to run the line (border) as we claim it,…without regard for the attitude of England and Canada.”
The Canadian contingent included a Toronto lawyer and Sir Louis Jetté, the Lieutenant-Govenor of Quebec, both of whom fought hard for Canada’s position. The fly in the ointment was the third member, Lord Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of England, who was there because Canada, as a colony, still did not have control over its own foreign policy. Alverstone voted with the Americans and Roosevelt got the border demarcation that he wanted. Canadians were outraged, one prominent citizen, Sir Charles Tupper, summing it up succinctly with, “The whole course of British negotiations with the United States is marked with a line of gravestones under which Canadian rights are buried.”
Considering all this, Canadians should be most appreciative of Mrs. Clinton’s generous new position espousing the merits of “friendly mediation”. I feel certain that a fair and final negotiation would split the Alaskan panhandle in two equal portions, giving the southern half to Canada. And as restitution for this past wrong and to put Sir Charles Tupper finally at rest, the U.S. might just as well throw in Maine, too.