North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. CNS photo/KCNA via Reuters

Trudeau needs to sign UN nuclear treaty, says Canadian Council of Churches

  • January 23, 2019

Leaders of the 26 churches who represent more than 85 per cent of Canada’s Christians are demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss nuclear arms policy.

In a Dec. 21 letter to the Prime Minister, the Canadian Council of Churches asks Trudeau to add Canada’s signature to the United Nations Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty and use Canada’s seat on the NATO Council to argue for a non-nuclear defence strategy.

“We believe that to rely on nuclear weapons, to threaten nuclear attack as a foundation for security, is ineffective and ethically problematic,” said the letter released publicly in mid-January.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Lionel Gendron signed the letter on behalf of Canada’s Catholic bishops.

“That statement is in perfect harmony with Pope Francis’ statement in November of 2017, in which he broke new ground for the Catholic Church in firmly condemning the possession of nuclear weapons,” said retired senator Doug Roche, a Canadian advisor to the Holy See on nuclear disarmament. “They are now demanding that Canada recognize, through signing the prohibition treaty, that the possession of nuclear weapons is illegal.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was passed at the UN in July of 2017 and the Holy See became one of the first states to sign and ratify the treaty on Sept. 20, 2017. The treaty comes into effect when it has been ratified by 50 states. Thus far it has been signed by 70 countries and ratified by 19. 

NATO members, including Canada, have dismissed the treaty as ineffective and irrelevant. They refused to attend UN sessions where it was debated.

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face that the Canadian Catholic bishops are supporting Pope Francis in a way that the American Catholic bishops are not,” Roche said.

In their most recent statement on nuclear disarmament in February last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for “bold and concrete commitments to accelerate verifiable nuclear disarmament,” but the statement made no reference to the UN treaty. Instead it advocates “serious negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty,” in line with official NATO policy. 

The treaty, which would track materials used in nuclear bomb making, has strong Canadian backing. 

Representatives of the USCCB did not answer e-mailed questions from The Catholic Register.

There’s nothing radical about Canada advocating for non-nuclear defence policies at NATO, said Project Ploughshares executive director Cesar Jaramillo.

“We’re not at Project Ploughshares or at the Canadian Council of Churches questioning the concept of collective security, or the concept of alliances, or the concept even of military preparedness. That’s not what we’re after,” said Jaramillo.

NATO maintains a first-strike nuclear weapons doctrine and capability while the U.S. pursues a nuclear weapons modernization plan that will see Washington spend more than $1 trillion between 2017 and 2030. 

For fiscal year 2019, President Donald Trump asked for $11 billion to fund nuclear weapons modernization. This represents a 19-per-cent increase over fiscal year 2017.

Canada is not obligated to accept NATO’s nuclear policies, said Jaramillo.

“Because Canada is a member (of NATO), a key prerogative one would think is that it should expect to be heard,” he said. “Canada is very well positioned to have a voice within NATO to advocate for security policies. No one challenges the right to have such security policies. They do not need to rely on nuclear weapons.”

Jaramillo advocates Canada signing the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty but holding off ratification until NATO adjusts its nuclear weapons policy.

At the very least, a canny politician like Trudeau should follow his father’s example by meeting with the Canadian Council of Churches, said Roche.

“If the Prime Minister’s Office refuses to give a meeting to the leaders of this historic ecumenical statement, on a subject of prime concern to the human security of all Canadians, in an election year, what does that tell you about the regard the Prime Minister’s Office has for the churches, or for religion, or for moral views?” asked Roche. 

Neither the PMO nor Global Affairs Canada responded to requests for comment from The Catholic Register

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