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The Nuclear North: The People, the Regions and the Arms Race.

Eudora Pendergrast — March 1984

Carole Giangrande, Anansi Press, 231 pages. Paperback, $9.95. The facts about Canada’s role in the nuclear defense industry included in Carole Giangrande’s book The Nuclear North are disheartening indeed. They reveal a complicity in the nuclear arms race and an involvement in the U.S. defense industry from which the Canadian government seems incapable of extricating itself.

Giangrande describes, for example, how Litton Systems Canada received a $24,000,000 grant to retool its factories for production of the cruise missile guidance system, under the federal Defense Industry Productivity Programme (DIP).

In addition to this hefty grant, DIP has also extended to Litton a five-year, interest-free loan of $22,500,000. Moreover, Litton was assisted in negotiating its defense contracts by the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a crown corporation owned by the federal Department of Supply and Services. (The CCC was established to serve as an agent for Canadian companies which supply goods to foreign governments and international agencies, and most of its deals involve military supplies.)

The extensive government support for Litton is only part of a long history of government involvement in Canadian arms production and sales. DIP’s spending in grants, for example, amounted to over $150,000,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money in 1981-82.

The “success” of this government involvement has resulted in $500,000,000 annually in Canadian arms exports, more than half of which are directed to the U.S. These U.S. deals are regulated under the Canada-U.S. Defense Production-Sharing Agreements (DPSA) signed in 1959. Giangrande describes the workings of DPSA as follows:

“Under these agreements, Canada produces and assembles weapons components, while the United States is responsible for all weapons systems design. The agreements allow Canadian companies to bid on all available U.S. defense contracts. But there’s a catch: Since 1963, Canada has had to buy as much military hardware from the U.S” as it sells to that country. Because of that catch, some experts believe that Canada is forced to buy weapons that are designed to suit U.S. military needs and defense policy;

Canada is not consulted in terms of what sorts of political goals will be “built into” the weapons.

The example of Canada’s role in nuclear defence production and its involvement in U.S. defence industry are not limited to Litton. In fact, a major theme of The Nuclear North is the regional nature of Canada’s nuclear involvement.

Giangrande examines in detail the history of . the creation of Saskatchewan’s Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range, where the cruise will be tested, from Metis land. Through research and interviews she traces the unsuccessful attempts of the Metis people to regain, if not ownership of this land, at least access to it for trapping and fishing.

The most extensively researched portions of Giangrande’s book deal with the development of the Canadian uranium industry and the role of Canadian nuclear technology, particularly the CANDU reactor, in international nuclear arms production.

Despite the valuable insights it provides, Giangrande’s book is, in the end, frustratingly ambivalent. This ambivalence is in large part due to the way she has defined her task:

“Rather than write another scare story about the threat of nuclear holocaust, I wanted to talk to workers in the nuclear industry and find out what a uranium miner or a farmer living near a possible testing site might have to say about the moral dilemmas involved in his daily existence.”

Giangrande has obviously pursued this task successfully, and we get a thorough account of the convictions, reservations and occasional moral evasions of the people involved in Canada’s nuclear and defence industries.

Ironically, however, Giangrande’s success in capturing the convictions and confusions of individual Canadians weakens rather than strengthens both her own pro-disarmament stance and her specific suggestions for Canadian disarmament initiatives.

What’s missing in this book is the deep sense of urgency experienced by those involved in Canada’s disarmament movement. And the source of this urgency and the commitment it generates, without which there would be no disarmament movement, is precisely the “scare story” about the threat of nuclear holocaust which Giangrande does not tell. The success’ of Canada’s disarmament movement will depend not simply on understanding ourselves as Canadians, but also on understanding our very tenuous existence as human beings in the shadow of nuclear destruction.