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COMMENTARY: Turner’s last political act was for nuclear abolition; Trudeau take note

"Earlier this year, under the Trump administration, the U.S. navy deployed a new low-yield tactical nuclear weapon on its Trident submarines that defence analysts claim is destabilizing," write Tamara Lorincz and Glenn Michalchuk. - Reuters

TAMARA LORINCZ & GLENN MICHALCHUK

One of the last political acts by former prime minister John Turner before he passed away was to add his signature to an open letter calling on current world leaders to abolish nuclear weapons.  

Turner was one of 56 former prime ministers, presidents, foreign ministers and defence ministers from 20 NATO countries, plus Japan and South Korea, who signed a letter that was publicly issued by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.  

The other eminent Canadians include former prime minister Jean Chrétien, former deputy prime minister John Manley, former defence ministers Jean-Jacques Blais and John McCallum and former foreign affairs ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Bill Graham.  

These Canadian signatories are all prominent elders of the Liberal Party. Their letter is a direct appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government to show leadership on nuclear disarmament.  

The former leaders write that the continued existence of 14,000 nuclear weapons poses an unacceptable, existential threat to humanity. They declare that “it is time to bring the era of reliance on nuclear weapons to a permanent end.”  

They urge countries like Canada to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that opened for signature at the United Nations three years ago. The prohibition treaty is a landmark global accord that they describe as a “beacon of hope in a time of darkness.” 

Currently, there are 84 signatories and 45 states parties to the TPNW, including New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. The treaty will come into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries — only five more countries are needed.  

However, Canada refuses to sign onto this important treaty because of pressure from the United States and because of our membership in nuclear-armed NATO. Yet the former leaders argue that countries should not worry about upsetting allies. They write “friends can and must speak up when friends engage in reckless behaviour that puts their lives and ours in peril.” 

Canada’s allies — the U.S., France and the United Kingdom — are irresponsibly upgrading their nuclear arsenals. The American nuclear modernization program, started under President Barack Obama in 2016, will cost $1.2 trillion over the next 25 years. Earlier this year, under the Trump administration, the U.S. navy deployed a new low-yield tactical nuclear weapon on its Trident submarines that defence analysts claim is destabilizing.  

The former leaders warn that a new nuclear arms race is underway and must be stopped. In the past, Canada took significant steps to reduce nuclear tensions during the Cold War. When Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister and John Turner was minister of justice, Canada ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969. Article 6 of the NPT requires state parties to negotiate in good faith and take effective measures for nuclear disarmament.   

At the United Nations in 1978, Pierre Trudeau declared: “We are thus not only the first country in the world with the capability to produce nuclear weapons that chose not to do so; we are also the first nuclear-armed country to have chosen to divest itself of nuclear weapons.” He forced the removal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Canada.  

While in office, the senior Trudeau also advanced a “strategy of suffocation” to reduce the number and the risk of nuclear weapons. He went on an international tour, holding meetings with leaders in Washington, D.C., London and Moscow to promote his peace and disarmament plan. For his efforts, Pierre Trudeau was awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Prize in 1984. 

In the ICAN letter, the former Liberal leaders call on today’s leaders to again “show courage and boldness” for nuclear disarmament and join the new prohibition treaty. They write that the TPNW provides “the foundation for a more secure world, free from the ultimate menace” and that all countries should support it. 

To mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on Sept. 26, dozens of peace and justice groups across Canada have followed Turner’s final wish and have also released an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to show leadership for nuclear disarmament like his father and to join the treaty to help eliminate the worst weapons of mass destruction.  

The former leaders’ ICAN letter can be read here: www.icanw.org/56_former_leaders

The letter from Canadian peace and justice groups can be read here: www.worldbeyondwar.org.     

Halifax native Tamara Lorincz is a member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. Glenn Michalchuk is a member of Peace Alliance Winnipeg.

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