In this 2018 file photo above, peace activists hold a Catholic prayer service of repentance near the White House for the use of nuclear weapons on Japan during the Second World War. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Nuclear arms and Canada

By 
  • November 5, 2020

With the treaty banning nuclear weapons about to become international law, Global Affairs Canada has softened its opposition. But it’s still on the wrong side of history, according to Project Ploughshares executive director Cesar Jaramillo.

“Canada is not doing nearly enough,” said Jaramillo. “The policies, the doctrines, the actions of the Canadian government are actually more closely aligned with states that have nuclear weapons than with the majority of the international community that is moving in the opposite direction.”

Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Oct. 24. Under the terms of the treaty, that means it enters into force as international humanitarian law as of Jan. 22.

Because it’s not one of the 84 states that have signed the treaty, nor one of the 50, including the Holy See, that have ratified it, Canada doesn’t have to do anything to comply with the new international law, Global Affairs told The Catholic Register.

“Treaties are formal, written agreements between states. As Canada has not acceded to the TPNW, our approach is consistent with international law,” spokesperson Grantly Franklin wrote in an email.

But otherwise Franklin expresses sympathy for the aims of the treaty, in marked contrast to Canada’s boycott of the 2017 treaty negotiations at the United Nations and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ridicule of the process.

“There can be all sorts of people talking about nuclear disarmament,” said Trudeau in 2017. “But if they do not actually have nuclear arms, it is sort of useless to have them around talking.”

“We acknowledge the widespread frustration with the pace of global efforts toward nuclear disarmament, which clearly motivated the negotiation of the TPNW. Canada shares these well founded concerns,” said Franklin.

"A war between the U.S. and Russia would be the end of civilization. I hope this will be remembered on Remembrance Day."

On behalf of Global Affairs, Franklin declared that Canada “remains committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

As Canadians don their poppies for Remembrance Day, born out of the popular movement to end all wars after the First World War, we should be thinking of the threat that 13,865 nuclear weapons pose to civilization, said anti-nuclear campaigner Anton Wagner of the Hiroshima Day Coalition in Toronto.

“Remembrance Day should be more closely identified with the global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons,” Wagner said.

With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty set to expire next year and talks on renewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty delayed for a year, the nuclear threat is far from theoretical. Even a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving perhaps 100 weapons would be enough to trigger nuclear winter, blocking out the sun, destroying crops and pushing about two billion people into starvation, said Wagner.

“A war between the U.S. and Russia would be the end of civilization,” he said. “I hope this will be remembered on Remembrance Day.”

Pope Francis has not forgotten. On Oct. 20 he organized a global meeting of religious leaders in Rome to issue an appeal for peace. 

“War always leaves the world worse than it was. War is the failure of politics and of humanity,” the religious leaders declared from the Capitoline Hill where in the wake of the Second World War the Treaty of Rome set the path for a united Europe in 1957.

Visiting Hiroshima a year ago, Pope Francis spoke more specifically about the morality of nuclear weapons.

“The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral,” he said.

Global Affairs Canada’s warm words for nuclear disarmament aren’t the same as concrete policy in Jaramillo’s books. As the TPNW enters into force, he wants Canada “to think where it stands at this moment, where the energy of the international community is going and whose policies it is aligning Canadian policy with. Is it the policies of Donald Trump?” he asked. “These are the policies that Canada has embraced by opposing this treaty.”

An online event presented by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and the Hiroshima Day Coalition on Nov. 19 will ask the question, “Why Hasn’t Canada Signed The UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?” MPs Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, Elizabeth May of the Greens, Hedy Fry of the Liberals and Heather McPherson of the NDP will speak, along with Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow. 

Canada acquiesced to a U.S. request in 2017 to boycott the United Nations negotiations for the TPNW. Since then Canada soundly lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

“Canadians need to acknowledge that there may be some actual, valid concerns about Canadian engagement with the world that leads to outcomes such as that,” Jaramillo said.

The citizen-led global movement behind the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons has demonstrated how nuclear diplomacy is not necessarily an insiders’ game reserved for politicians, generals and bureaucrats, Jaramillo said. In particular, religious voices have had an important role in pushing for the treaty.

“Religious voices were very directly involved in all stages of the treaty and will continue to be involved in what follows,” Jaramillo said. 

Project Ploughshares is an arm of the Canadian Council of Churches, supported by Canada’s Catholic bishops. Jaramillo sat at the New York conference table that Canada refused to attend when the TPNW was being negotiated in 2017.

“The religious, they are and have developed their expertise in these aspects of policy and understanding the debate. But they also bring a moral dimension,” Jaramillo said. “Faith communities have a certain authority when they speak of the moral dimensions of the nuclear threat… That morality, or that immorality, that the faith communities have been emphasizing just resonates. It’s a very visceral thing.”

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