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"Right of Passage"

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Alaskan politicians are fuming these days over the recent blockade of one of their ferries by angry B.C. fishermen, arguing these vessels have the right of “innocent passage” through Canadian waters.

The brouhaha, of course, wasted little time reaching Washington, D.C., where Congress passed a resolution deploring the actions taken by fishermen frustrated over seeing their catches being hauled up by American nets.

What matters here isn’t whether the salmon are “Canadian" or "American,” or whether both sides are throwing conservation to the wind to spite each other.

No, for readers here in Rainy River District, the standoff along the B.C. coast leaves one to wonder why our neighbours to the south like to spout off such ideals as right of “innocent passage” when it suits their needs, and charge Canadians for doing the exact same thing through their waters when it doesn’t.

Last August, Fort Frances resident Bo Armstrong took five paying customers on a scheduled tour from Pither’s Point to Hale Bay on Rainy Lake, both deemed to be in Canadian waters. But rather than being afforded the right of “innocent passage” through U.S. waters within Voyageurs National Park, he was charged instead by the U.S. National Park Service for engaging in commercial activity within park waters without a permit.

The case, after several delays, finally is scheduled to go before a U.S. magistrate in Bemidji next month—and its outcome will have repercussions for all the parties concerned. Mr. Armstrong, for one, is willing to take this matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

So where has Ottawa been all this time? Well, so far keeping a hands-off approach to the whole thing. If Mr. Armstrong has his case dismissed next month, then that’s all fine and good. If he’s convicted, however, and takes his case to the next level, then the federal government had better come charging to his aid.

You can bet if the situation was reversed, U.S. politicians would be clamouring for action against Canada to defend one of its citizens. It’s high time we do the same for one of ours.

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