The Canadian Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act: New Stresses on the Law of the Sea

56 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2010

See all articles by Richard Bilder

Richard Bilder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: November 1, 1970


On June 17, 1970, the Canadian Parliament approved the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act which asserts Canada’s jurisdiction to regulate all shipping in zones up to 100 nautical miles off its Arctic coasts in order to guard against pollution of the regions coastal and marine resources. The United States promptly protested Canada’s enactment of this legislation, taking the position that international law provides no basis for such unilateral extensions of jurisdiction on the high seas.

The Canadian Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act raises complex and controversial questions of international law and policy regarding the legal regime of Arctic water, the concept of contiguous areas, the status of waters when archipelagos, and the doctrines of innocent passage and international straits. It also illustrates the strong pressures within coastal states for unilateral action to protect what they regard as their legitimate interests – particularly against the threat of ocean pollution, and suggests the difficult issues involved in attempting to reach an international agreement on a regulatory regime adequate to prevent such pollution. Finally, the diplomatic interactions between the U.S. and Canada with respect to Canada’s passage of the Act offer an instructive study of the international legal process in action.

This article analyzes and discusses each of these issues and, in particular, Canada’s claim to sovereignty and jurisdiction over substantial portions of the waters of the Northwest Passage, concluding that an agreed solution to these problems between the U.S. and Canada will not be easily reached.

Keywords: Law of the Sea, Canadian environmental legislation, Arctic waters, coastal and marine resources, regulation of ocean pollution, territorial and contiguous seas, pollution prevention zones, Morthwest Passage, jurisdiction over ocean pollution, U.S.-Canadian jurisdiction conflicts

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Bilder, Richard, The Canadian Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act: New Stresses on the Law of the Sea (November 1, 1970). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 1, 1970, University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Series Archival Collection, Available at SSRN:

Richard Bilder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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