Joint Commission, a mechanism used extensively by Britain and the US to settle bilateral disputes mainly of a technical nature. Bodies composed of one or more representatives from each country, occasionally with a neutral chairman, are appointed to collect the facts of a dispute and offer recommendations for its solution. The ancient principle of arbitration was revived in North America by JAY'S TREATY, 1794, which set up 3 commissions to resolve intractable British and American differences. One, identifying the "true" ST CROIX RIVER mentioned in the Treaty of PARIS (1783), was outstandingly successful and began the use of mixed commissions to clarify the route of the Canadian-American border. The method was also applied to the determination of merchant-shipping losses in naval warfare and to disputes over the North Atlantic fisheries. When joint commissions failed, matters were referred to diplomatic negotiation (eg, ASHBURTON-WEBSTER TREATY, of 1842) or to arbitration by a friendly power (eg, San Juan Islands decision by the German emperor, 1872).
Following the US Civil War the practice began of referring a range of questions to a joint or mixed commission for simultaneous decision. The most famous of these bodies was the 10-member commission (among whose members was Prime Minister Sir John A. MACDONALD) that resulted in the 1871 Treaty of WASHINGTON. Another commission, meeting in Québec City and Washington 1898-99 and including Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid LAURIER and 2 Cabinet ministers among its members, failed to settle the ALASKA BOUNDARY DISPUTE. The most successful mixed commission has undoubtedly been the permanent INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION (1909).
Joint commissions between Canada and the US have dealt with a number of diverse topics: fisheries, defence, the marking of the boundary and the reconciliation of trade statistics. Parity of membership has enhanced Canada's standing in an asymmetrical relationship, and both countries have benefited from the disposition to solve problems constructively.