hans island

Canada and Denmark have been fighting over this uninhabited island for decades

A  1.2-square-kilometre uninhabited island near the edge of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut has been a source of conflict between Canada and Denmark for almost 40 years. 

Whether Hans Island belongs to Canada or Greenland has been widely debated for years on end, and both countries have gone to great lengths to claim the rock in the middle of the ocean. 

"Hans Island is really just a large rock, but it happens to lie smack dab in the middle of the Nares Strait, a 22-mile-wide channel of very cold water separating Canada and Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark," notes a New York Times article from 2016.

"The island falls within the 12-mile territorial limit of either shore, allowing both sides to claim it under international law."

Both countries have repeatedly claimed sovereignty over the island, which has likely been used as an Inuit hunting ground since the 14th century.

They attempted to established an official border through the strait in 1973 but failed to come to a conclusion over Hans Island, so the issue was set aside and left to be resolved at a later time. 

In 1984, in true passive-aggressive Canadian fashion, Canadian troops visited the island and left a flag and a bottle of whisky behind to symbolically mark their territory. 

But Denmark's minister of Greenland quickly replaced Canada's symbols with a Danish flag, a bottle of Danish schnapps and a note saying "Welcome to the Danish island."

"Whenever you get people together, especially people who are friends and neighbours and like a drink or two, they come up with ingenious ways of indicating what's theirs or not," Alan Kessel, a legal expert with Global Affairs Canada, told CBC News in 2018

The following years were filled with disputes and disagreements as the two countries continued to claim the island as their own. 

Negotiations between the two countries were reopened in 2005 and several solutions were proposed in the years to come including an agreement to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, an official statement saying they'd agreed on a process to resolve the conflict and a proposal for Canada and Denmark to split Hans Island right down the middle. 

In 2012, Canada and Denmark officially came to an agreement on the exact border between them, but the issue of Hans Island remained unresolved. 

Most recently, in 2018, Canada and Denmark agreed to create a joint task force made up of lawyers and experts to come up with an official agreement in an attempt to settle the age-old conflict once and for all.

Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons


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