Canada back-pedals on nuclear weapons ban

The UN has adopted a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. Canada claims to support the elimination of nuclear weapons but opposed the treaty.
Nuclear test in Nevada in 1953. Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia

It is fitting near year’s end, although worrisome, to learn that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set its Doomsday Clock to two-and-a-half minutes before midnight, closer to potential nuclear calamity than at any time since the 1980s. They point, for example, to North Korea’s continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as bellicose counter threats being made by the US government. They point as well to the escalation of tensions between the US and Russia. “Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink,” the atomic scientists say. “If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

Peace prize for ICAN

One group of citizens has stepped forward and for their efforts they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017, which was presented in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10th.  The International Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of civil society organizations from more than 100 countries. ICAN’s fifteen Canadian partners include the Anglican Church of Canada, Physicians for Global Survival, the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Quakers. Since its founding in 2007, the group has worked to convince United Nations member states to create a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.

ICAN says the effort was urgent because there had been two decades of “paralysis” in multilateral efforts toward nuclear disarmament. There are an estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of states that possess them. All of those countries continue to modernize their  weapons and intend to keep, rather than eliminate, them.

Prohibition treaty adopted

Despite this opposition, the civil society campaign was successful at the UN and in July 2017 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by 122 member nations. The treaty would prohibit nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. A nation that possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a nation that hosts another nation’s nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline. Once the treaty has been ratified by 50 states, the ban on nuclear weapons would enter into force and become binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty.

Nuclear states oppose

However, the so-called “big five” states on the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain – have shown no interest in co-operating or in adopting such a treaty. They all possess nuclear weapons and want to keep them and they want to control the agenda. The US, for example, placed pressure on its NATO allies to boycott the UN’s entire treaty-making enterprise. Unfortunately, the Canadian government allowed itself to be bullied. In 2016, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion claimed that a ban on nuclear weapons without the support of nuclear weapons states was a foolish and utopian dream.

But ICAN and other campaigners, including the Canadian civil society partners, point to earlier initiatives whose success appeared unlikely but which were ultimately accepted even by the big powers. These include treaties to ban biological weapons (1972), chemical weapons (1993), landmines (1997), and cluster bombs (2008).

Canada back-pedals

The Canadian government continues to claim that it supports the abolition of nuclear weapons, but that is belied by its opposing the UN’s historic treaty in July. Canada continues to insist, along with its nuclear-armed allies, on an incrementalist approach to abolition that has failed for nearly 50 years. Our government also ignores a House of Commons resolution, passed unanimously in 2010, calling for Canadian leadership on nuclear disarmament. The Trudeau administration claims to “be back” at the UN but is back-pedalling on the pressing nuclear question as the clock threatens to tick down to midnight.

A somewhat briefer version of this piece was published on the website of the  United Church Observer on December 8, 2017.

Canada and the NAFTA negotiations, irony among stakeholders

The US-Canada-Mexico NAFTA renegotiations are creating some odd bed fellows
The US is demanding new NAFTA concessions regarding auto production. Dennis Gruending photo.

Those old enough to recall it will remember that the 1988 federal election in Canada turned into an epic battle over a proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. The ruling Conservatives and corporate Canada campaigned for it, saying that it would provide untrammeled access to the vast American market and provide a new era of jobs and prosperity for Canadians. Without the deal, they said, this country would become a stagnant economic backwater. Continue reading Canada and the NAFTA negotiations, irony among stakeholders

Bill C-262: Canada must implement UN declaration on Indigenous rights

MP Romeo Saganash says his Bill C-262 would ensure UN Indigenous Peoples declaration
MP Romeo Saganash, author of Bill C-262. Art Babych photo.

When they were campaigning for election in 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that they would adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but it appears that they are now less eager to do so.  Continue reading Bill C-262: Canada must implement UN declaration on Indigenous rights

Hostages Joshua Boyle, Amanda Lindhout were reckless

Former Canadian hostages Amanda Lindhout, Joshua Boyle exhibited a self-absorbed and reckless naiveté.
Amanda Lindhout, former Canadian hostage in Somalia. Photo courtesy Art Babych.

Canadians are witnessing two post-hostage dramas and there are lessons to be learned from each.  In October, after five years in captivity, Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlin Coleman and their three young children were rescued from their captors by Pakistani troops after a shootout in Pakistan’s rugged border area with Afghanistan.

On the same day, Canadian Amanda Lindhout was in an Ottawa courtroom facing a Somali man who she says was one of her hostage-takers during 460 days of captivity in the east African country in 2008-09. Continue reading Hostages Joshua Boyle, Amanda Lindhout were reckless

Business lobby hysterical on Bill Morneau’s tax reforms

Business lobby responds hysterically to Finance Minister Bill Morneau's tax proposals
Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Art Babych photo.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau wants to close loopholes that allow highly paid professionals to reduce their taxes by incorporating and then using various small business tax breaks to shelter their income.  These loopholes are legal but unfair.  They amount to potentially more than $1 billion annually in lost revenues to the government. That money could be used toward pharmacare, affordable housing or building green infrastructure.  Morneau argues that he wants to create an improved tax system but some of the reaction has been hysterical. Continue reading Business lobby hysterical on Bill Morneau’s tax reforms

Note to pundits: the NDP leadership race matters

NDP leadership contender Guy Caron (left) at Ottawa event in August 2017. Dennis Gruending photo.

Soon, members of the New Democratic Party will begin electronic and mail-in voting to select their new leader. The race features four competent and principled candidates in MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Guy Caron, as well Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh, and it has become increasingly interesting. But the wider question is whether the NDP will be relevant in Canada’s political future? I contend that it will be. In the interests of transparency, I should mention that I served as an NDP MP in the late 1990s. Continue reading Note to pundits: the NDP leadership race matters

Labour Day message, unions are good

Unins benefit society so Canada’s workers can walk proudly on Labour Day.
Labour demonstration in Toronto, 2011. Dennis Gruending photo.

I first joined a union when I was nineteen years old. On my first day out of school for the summer, I traveled in my old Chevrolet to one of the potash mines under construction near Saskatoon. The man at the entrance gate told me that if I wanted to work there I would have to join one of the unions. I drove into the city, borrowed some money from my aunt, and went to the union hall to sign up. I was soon a member of the Construction and General Workers Union and working at the mine as a carpenter’s helper. Continue reading Labour Day message, unions are good

Confronting John A. Macdonald’s racism with ‘acts of anger’

John A Macdonald was a racist in his time. Does that mean his statutes should come down today?
John A Macdonald scupture at Ottawa’s airport. Dennis Gruending photo

Just as the Americans are dealing with what to do with statues of Confederate leaders such as General Robert E. Lee, Canadians have embarked on their own debate about stripping the name of Sir John A. Macdonald from schools and other buildings in Ontario. At its recent annual meeting, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario passed a motion which described this country’s first prime minister as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous peoples.” Continue reading Confronting John A. Macdonald’s racism with ‘acts of anger’