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Group calls for referendum

Eudora Pendergrast — September 1983

A major Canadian group has called for a national referendum on the testing of the cruise missile in Canada.

At a press conference at Toronto’s City Hall, Jim Stark, President of Operation Dismantle, distributed calls for a binding referendum ballot with two questions on it, one concerning the testing of the cruise, the other concerning Canada’s membership in NATO. The proposal was drafted by Michael Mandel, a professor of law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall.

The press conference was attended by Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton, who expressed his support for the referendum proposal. Eggleton has publicly expressed his opposition to cruise testing in Canada.

Trudeau has indicated that the government’s decision to permit cruise testing in Canada would be reconsidered only if it could be demonstrated that a majority of Canadians are against it. Trudeau asserts that this could be done only in a federal election fought mainly on the issue of Canada’s membership in NATO.

According to the Operation Dismantle proposal, a general election, “with its many regional issues and the governing of the country at stake,” is not a suitable mechanism for making a decision on the cruise. “We believe that, with world peace in the balance, it is the right and the duty of every Canadian to make up his or her mind on this issue and to take a stand… A national referendum would be the occasion for a nationwide debate which would enhance everyone’s understanding of all aspects of the issue, with the result that whatever decision was ultimately taken would be a fully conscious and mature decision.”

In a telephone interview in mid-August, Stark explained that the debate on the cruise issue has not been a normal political debate, with full and open discussion in the House of Commons. The government has disregarded the unprecedented strength of the Canadian protest, and has deliberately tried to mislead the public on the issue. “The government says that cruise testing is a NATO issue, when it isn’t. It says the missile is verifiable, when it isn’t. It says testing will not undermine arms reduction negotiations, when it will. At the very least, a national referendum would permit the facts of the matter to be brought out into the open.”

Stark is more optimistic about the court suit filed in July by Dismantle and 26 other labour and peace organisations. Although the federal government has filed a motion to dismiss the suit as “frivolous and vexatious,” Stark believes the Chief Justice will permit the hearing to proceed to the preliminary injunction stage. (The court suit requests a preliminary injunction to stop the cruise testing until a full hearing on a permanent injunction can be held. See the August 1983 issue of The Peace Calendar for details.)

It is not too late for other groups to participate in the court suit, said Stark, since supplementary affidavits can be submitted to show the support of groups not listed in the original application. Dismantle’s greatest needs at this time, however, are financial.

Operation Dismantle’s main office can be contacted at Box 3887, Station C, Ottawa KIY 4M5, telephone 613-xxx-xxxx.