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Secession debate to stay on U.S. turf

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The federal government is taking a hands-off approach to the dispute over fishing regulations that has prompted some camp owners in northern Minnesota wanting to exchange their stars-and-stripes for a maple leaf.

Rep. Collin Peterson introduced a bill in the House of Representatives last week that would permit Congress to relinquish its claim on Northwest Angle in Minnesota if residents there voted in favour of joining Canada.

“Our position obviously will be that this is an American internal matter and best left with the American legislators,” local MP Robert Nault said yesterday from Ottawa.

“The federal government doesn’t interfere in domestic U.S. government affairs,” he added.

“The U.S. government has not raised this issue with Canada,” echoed Valerie Noftle, a spokesperson with the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding they encouraged Minnesota and Ontario to work out their differences.

Northwest Angle residents brought forward the request after Ontario released new fishing regulations to reduce the harvest of walleye and sauger on Lake of the Woods.

Under those changes, people staying at U.S. resorts must practise catch-and-release if fishing in Canadian waters. They are not permitted to keep walleye or sauger.

But those staying overnight at Canadian resorts--and fishing those same waters--would be allowed to do so.

That, argued Gary Dieztler, owner of Northwest Angle Resort, violates U.S. rights under boundary waters treaties. By bringing the issue forward, he added, they were hoping to make both governments aware of this.

Nearly one-third of the 100 Northwest Angle residents who attended a public meeting March 10 voted 89 percent in favour of joining Manitoba. But Dieztler admitted they were U.S. citizens and didn’t want to give that up.

“We were looking for a vehicle to get our problem in front of our federal government,“ he explained. “It revolves around our rights as citizens.

“I would like to see the treaties read and our rights upheld under the treaties,” he said, adding he’d like to see both the U.S. and Canadian governments resolve the issue.

“They could sit down and settle it in five minutes,” he argued.

But Nault stressed it has always been the stance of the federal governments on both sides that provinces and states manage conservation in their regions.

With that, Ontario has the administrative capacity to set its fishing regulations.

“The Ontario government does have the right to set the fish regs. They have the power and the right to do that,” Nault said, adding he wasn’t sure any treaty would superseded that.

And no treaty, he stressed, gave U.S. citizens the right to venture into Canadian waters without adhering to Canadian laws. He also noted many U.S. camp owners along the border relied on Ontario’s natural resources for their survival.

Donna Hanson, president of the Northwestern Ontario Tourism Association (NWOTA), noted this debate wouldn’t have any impact on the Canadian resort owners on Lake of the Woods.

“There are no changes for 1998 for those staying in Ontario,” she said, adding those staying at the Northwest Angle had always fished Canadian resources.

“It doesn’t make sense to build your business on foreign resources,” she remarked.

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