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Nordic Lords: BC Danes think Hans Island should foster Canada-Denmark cooperation, not conflict

Can and should the long-disputed Hans Island become a bridge to friendship for the current Nordic contenders? 

By Malcolm Morgan
Published September 2005

Even BC Danes loyal to their homeland think the Hans Island ownership issue is overblown, and needs to be resolved peacefully, and for the mutual benefit of both Denmark and Canada. 

“I hadn’t even heard of Hans Island until a couple of years ago, when the media brought it up,” admitted Peter Kjargaard, former president of the Royal Danish Guard Association of the Pacific Northwest, speaking from the office in Victoria, BC.     

To Kjargaard, the subject is not worth the contention.  “I think it only became a problem because they discovered minerals and whatnot there,” he said, in accordance with what an August 8 Inside Denmark article referred to as emerging mining, fishing and oil and gas opportunities on this island, due to the influence of global warming. 

Inside Denmark noted the upcoming September talks at the UN General Assembly, in which Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew will meet with his equivalent from Denmark to discuss the matter. 

Kjargaard thought this discussion would be likely to bring a peaceable solution. “I think that’s the way it has to be – and that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said. 

Ebba Siple, Resident Director of Dania Home, a long-term care facility in Burnaby, BC, had largely the same initial impression of the issue: “I myself, yes, I was born in Denmark, and, yes, now I’ve moved to Canada, but I haven’t really heard of this Hans Island issue, until recently.”    

It seems a tiny issue, about a tiny island, between a big country with a tiny population, and a tiny EU state, who have never before had the tiniest inclination to squabble over anything. 

Canada has been allied with Denmark during WWII, for example, and the Canadian government’s Canada-Europa website describes Canadian-Danish relations as “excellent, productive and essentially problem-free,” going on to say that trade between the Arctic neighbors “has been steadily increasing to approximately C$1.4 billion in the year 2003,” and adding that “Danish direct investment in Canada totaled $528 million” that same year. 

So is all of this mutual benefit worth thumbing the nose at over what Inside Denmark describes as a series of competitive claim-laying (Danish flag erecting, and Canadian plaque and flag erecting) over the past few years? 

“My gut feeling is that Denmark doesn’t need that island – what would they do with it?” said Siple. 

Asked if the two nations should share the predicted available resources, she said, “Now, that would be a much better way of doing it – they’re resources that are just there, and do they really have to be owned by one country or another?” 

Birgitte Kristoffersen, wife of Soren Kristoffersen, pastor of The Danish Lutheran Church of Vancouver, BC, considers herself not Danish-Canadian, but a Dane living temporarily in Canada, as her husband is only on a five-year contract with the church. Her loyalties on the issue lie with Denmark.  However, she still largely concurred with Stiple and Kjargaard, saying of the idea of sharing, “maybe they should, it would be a good idea.” 

Of the possibility of headway on the issue in September, Kristoffersen said, “I hope, surely, they will resolve it.”  

It seems there’s just too much friendship at stake not to resolve it. 

Kjargaard leaves us with an impression of just how small the issue really is: “We’ve [Canada and Denmark] always been good neighbors…I don’t think there’s anything [justifying the dispute] – “I think the media just tend to portray it that way.”


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