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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

Nuclear Weapons Controversies in Canada

A clash between the Provincial Government of British Columbia (BC) and the Federal Canadian Government in Ottawa has taken place over the future of a US torpedo testing range in BC's Georgia Strait. The lease under which the terms of which the US has tested torpedoes since 1965 is due to expire this year, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) Provincial Government is threatening to refuse any renewal unless the US commits itself not to send nuclear-armed vessels into the area. British Columbia has been a self-declared nuclear-weapons-free zone since 1992. In turn, the Liberal Federal Government is threatening to expropriate the territory concerned. According to the Government's chief lawyer, Greg McDade: "All British Columbia is saying is: on our own land, we have the right to impose those conditions. The Federal Government, in order to cater to the US Government and not offend them, is using expropriation as a sledgehammer." Public hearings on the issue opened in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island on 19 July. A report based on the hearings will be sent to Ottawa in September, with a decision by the Government expected shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, a Federal Government plan billed as a means of contributing to the cause of non-proliferation is incurring the wrath of many Parliamentarians and anti-nuclear and environmental activists. The Chretien Administration intends to burn weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled US and Russian nuclear weapons as a fuel in commercial reactors, and is planning to conduct a feasibility study at a nuclear research facility in Chalk River, Ontario. The scheme, and the trial project, was strongly defended by Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy on 14 July: "The only commitment we have made is to undertake certain tests of very small, minute portions... I do not think it represents a real threat to Canada. But nuclear proliferation represents a threat to all mankind. ... We live in a dangerous nuclear world. We have some responsibilities to help in the denuclearizing of that world... We are simply testing to see if we can make a contribution to that issue."

The sincerity, or accuracy, of this claim was questioned by NDP MP Svend Robinson (14 July) who stated angrily: "Canadians do not want our country to become a dumping ground for the world's Cold War plutonium." And in the view of Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout (14 July): "This nuclear-industry driven project is presented by the Prime Minister and other supporters as a disarmament initiative. In fact, the project will contribute to proliferation by commercializing the use of plutonium."

Editor's note: on 2 September, the US and Canada announceed agreement on the details of a trial project, to be known as Project Parallax. See next issue for details and comment.

Reports: Canada plutonium debate rages, Associated Press, 14 July; US torpedo testing enrages Canadians, Associated Press, 20 July.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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