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Cruise testing request: Free vote refused

Eudora Pendergrast — July 1983

On June 13, the United States formally requested permission to test the air-launched cruise missile in Canada. The request was made under the terms of the umbrella weapon-testing agreement between Canada and the US signed by Defense Minister Gilles Lamontagne last April 21.

Despite the fact that polls show that a majority of Canadians oppose testing, and despite repeated calls for an open debate on the issue, government refused to permit a free vote on the US request.

Instead, the debate in the House of Commons on June 14 was on a resolution put forward by NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, calling on the House to express its opposition to the escalation of the nuclear arms race by any country and, in particular, to the testing in Canada of any nuclear weapon, including the cruise.

Any motion put forward by an opposition party can be put to a free vote if the leaders of all parties represented in the House agree. In this instance, the Liberal leader would not agree, and the motion was predictably defeated by a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives.

Several MPs refused to be bound by their parties, however. Liberal MP Warren Allmand, along with Conservative MPs John Fraser, Doug Roche, Jack Murta and Walter McLean, voted in favour of the motion.

Liberal MPs David Weatherhead, Doug Frith, Peter Itinnuar, Ron Irwin. Paul McRae and George Baker abstained.

In Toronto, local disarmament groups and peace activists held a press conference on June 14 at the CANDIS office in Holy Trinity Church. ACT (Against Cruise Testing Coalition), CANDIS, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the Cruise Missile Conversion Project, Science for Peace, the Toronto Disarmament Network, and the Voice of Women all called on Prime Minister Trudeau to refuse the request.

Written statements were read from Bob White of the United Auto Workers Union of Canada and United Church Moderator Dr. Clarke MacDonald, opposing the testing of the Cruise and calling for a free and open debate in Parliament before a final decision is made.

According to Matthew Clark of the TDN, “The Liberal leadership might win a debate in the House of Commons with Tory support, but they would lose in the eyes of the public — a majority of Canadians Oppose cruise testing, and the polls prove it.”

Metta Spencer, sociology professor, said that it was up to the Canadian people to “send a message to the government that they may not gamble with the survival of the human species and the life of the planet.”

All those present agreed that it is imperative that Canadians of all political parties continue to express their opposition to Canada’s involvement in the nuclear arms race, regardless of the outcome of a partisan vote in the House.

Bert Keser of ACT noted that the process has already been delayed by months as the result of Canadian protests, and that the actual tests could be delayed or even halted by widespread reaction to an agreement to test the cruise, He said that massive demonstrations would be held on the Saturday following the signing of the agreement.

Demonstrations planned to occur before a decision has been reached, are also crucial if Canadians are to affect government policy.

The August 6th Hiroshima Day demonstration at Queen’s Park in Toronto will have opposition to the cruise as a theme. October 22nd demonstrations in Toronto, across Canada and around the world will be specifically directed against the deployment of the cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe.

These demonstrations will permit Canadians to tell their political leaders that they must act in good conscience in the interests of the Canadian people and the human race, and not simply in accordance with the dictates of party politics.