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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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Chris Hadfield on Arctic sovereignty Add to ...

Astronaut Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian to walk in space. A veteran of two space missions, he will become commander of the International Space Station in 2013.

Where are you from?

I was born in Sarnia and raised in Milton [Ont.]/p>

What is the farthest north you have been?

Grise Fiord, about 76 degrees north, up in the archipelago. I don't know that there is a community north of that. I've had a chance, as an astronaut, to do a couple of Arctic tours.

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Have you seen Canada's North in its entirety from space?

From the space station or the shuttle, you get about 52 degrees north, about a million feet up. You can't see the whole Canadian Arctic at once, but on the horizon you can see most of it.

Is the Arctic archipelago Canadian?

Yes, our part of it is. You can't include Greenland, of course, and the Russian have their own archipelago, but the main big lump, absolutely, apart from Alaska, is Canadian.

Why? Because we say so?

It has always been Canadian since Canada formed a country. No one else took an interest originally and, by a great stroke of history, it is Canadian. It influenced what Canada is.

In a recent poll, three-quarters of Canadians saw the Northwest Passage as an internal waterway. Do you agree?

Absolutely. The Northwest Passage goes through all the Canadian islands. Look at a map. It is definitely Canadian.

In the same poll, a majority of Canadians said they would support a military shift to Canada's North, even at the expense of our involvement in conflicts elsewhere. Do you agree?

When I was a CF-18 pilot flying in defence of Canada's North under NORAD, we intercepted Soviet bombers threatening our northern borders. I think it was important - not that they were going to launch their missiles and not that we were going to do anything hostile, but to demonstrate the ability to defend ourselves, to demonstrate we know what is going on within our borders.

If you're going to spend taxpayers' dollars, you need to recognize where the greatest threats are.

Canadians seem to have a deeply ingrained romantic attachment to the Far North, even though very few of us will ever get there. Why is that?

In the United States, they think North Dakota or Minnesota are way, way north. But they are south of our southern border. It's all perspective. As Canadians, part of our core self-definition is that we are from the North. Proud of it. And the epitomization of what is the North is the Arctic.

How do we reconcile the increased interest in the North due to what is essentially greed - money to be made from natural resources - with that notion? What happened to romance?

Like anywhere else in the world, easy access and the lure of wealth draws people. Great gold rushes. There will be great interest. Hopefully, the fact that we are an established, wealthy and proud country will allow us to prevent that.

The phrase much bandied regarding Arctic sovereignty is "Use it or lose it." Is that apt?

You have to be able to defend what is yours, especially if you are in an environment where people want to take it away. We learn that in the playground. It's one of the responsibilities of Canada to defend what we think is right.

You used a playground analogy. If push comes to shove, isn't Canada the smallest kid in the sandbox?

Something else you learn in the playground is who your friends are. Canada has been an excellent friend in a lot of conflicts that were a lot bigger than us and did not directly threaten us. We did what we thought was right in order to defend our allies; I think the same would happen if our North was being threatened. Good friends would help us out.

It has been said the best way to establish sovereignty in Canada's North would be to have more Canadians living there. This would involve a commitment to expanding services. Is that the way to go?

My profession is space exploration. We talk about living on the moon or Mars. I often think about living in the least hospitable parts of the world - under the oceans or the Far North. There is an indigenous population, but most people, given a choice, don't want to live there. We need to learn how to modify the environment to do as little damage as possible but still raise standards. As the world becomes more populated and the technology to support life evolves, I think that will open up the North more than anything.

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