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In a decision that startled no one, the Canadian government signed an agreement last month to permit the United States to test the guidance system of the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) in Canada.
The tests are scheduled to begin in January, 1984, in north-western Canada, and are planned to take place over a five-year period. At least four tests are allowed per year, between the months of January and March.
In announcing the agreement at a press conference in Ottawa on July 15, External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen said that the agreement was signed in order to further the cause of peace. According to MacEachen, if any signs of progress are seen at the Geneva peace talks the tests can be halted.
The speedy response to the U.S. request was criticised by many, including the Progressive Conservatives, who indicated that the agreement had been signed without waiting for possible success at the Geneva negotiations.
Disarmament supporters across Canada were swift in responding to the announcement. In Ottawa, NDP MP Pauline Jewett accused Prime Minister Trudeau of lying to Canadians. “Trudeau is continuing to misinform the Canadian public when be says this (cruise testing) is a NATO obligation,” she said. “Norway remains a part of NATO and has refused such testing. He’s saying we’ll have to get out of NATO if we refuse — and that’s an absolute, total lie.”
Also in Ottawa, Operation Dismantle indicated that it plans to take the government to court because the agreement violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Canadians the right to life and security.
In Toronto, a press conference was held at City Hail, two hours after the government announcement, by a number of peace and disarmament groups.
“The government has announced today that the cruise missile will he tested in Canada,” said Matthew Clark of the Toronto Disarmament Network. “We are here to announce that it will not.”
Clark called the issue “far from settled,” and referred to statements by parliamentary experts indicating the decision can yet be annulled. “The campaign for peace is not over; it is just beginning.”
Prime Minister Trudeau’s argument that Canada must test the cruise or leave NATO was called “unacceptable” by Angela Browning, chairperson of the Against Cruise Testing coalition.
Browning said that Canada must take a stand and remain a world force for peace. “If the world is to be safe from nuclear holocaust, we must do more than make concerned speeches at the U.N.,” a reference to Trudeau’s speech to the 1978 United Nations Special Session on Disarmament advocating a “strategy of suffocation.”
According to Browning, the peace movement will make cruse testing “the most prominent issue in the upcoming federal election.”
Several of those present referred to the manner in which the government announced its decision. “The fact that the announcement was made on a Friday at 5 PM before a long weekend (while Parliament is not in session) is a frank attempt to manipulate the news” said United Auto Workers Director Bob White in a statement read by George Ehring.
“Obviously the government is concerned about the strength of the anti-cruise movement.”
Bonnie Greene of the United Church of Canada called the agreement “collaboration with one of the major nuclear powers in a unilateral effort on its part to escalate the arms race.”
According to Dr. Frank Sommers, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the U.S. has to fight and prevail in a nuclear war. Sommers pointed out that if one armed cruise missile was delivered on Toronto, 124,000 people would be killed immediately, and 159,000 people would be injured by the same warhead. “All the medical capacity in all of Canada would not be sufficient to deal with the injuries arising from one of these warheads. For purely medical reasons, testing such a missile is unethical,” said Sommers
Demonstrations are planned over the next few months, with the primary focus on halting the testing of the cruise. Rosemary Cooke of the Cruise Missile Conversion Project referred to the July non-violent civil disobedience action at Griffiss Air Force Base in New York, the departure point for B-52 bombers which will carry the cruise missiles to the Alberta testing range. Other protests are planned at Litton Systems in Toronto.
Angela Browning announced that a vigil would begin the following day at Liberal Party Headquarters in Toronto. She also indicated that demonstrations would be held across Canada on July 23, one week after the announcement.
It is imperative that the Canadian people respond to this indefensible decision by the Cabinet. As ACT made clear at the July 15 press conference, “the Canadian government must honour its commitment to democracy by cancelling the testing of the cruise missile on our land.”