Re-affirming City of Toronto as a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone

April 19, 2018

The following comments refer to the April 16, 2018 Board of Health meeting on item 2018.HL26.1: Re-affirming City of Toronto as a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

As Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a Canadian group that has conducted research on nuclear disarmament for more than four decades, I add my full and unequivocal support to item 2018.HL26.1, now under consideration by the Toronto Board of Health: Re-affirming City of Toronto as a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

Any conceivable use of nuclear weapons would result in mass, indiscriminate destruction, with a power so great that it threatens the very existence of the human community and the environment that sustains it. To rely on nuclear weapons and to threaten nuclear attack as a foundation for security, is to acquiesce to spiritual and moral bankruptcy.

The threat of nuclear weapons use has reached levels not seen since the Cold War. Heightened tensions between North Korea and the United States have recently turned an otherwise unfathomable nuclear catastrophe into an increasingly conceivable scenario. And they are far from the only sources of tension that raise the prospect of nuclear weapons use.

From the perilous India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, to an increasingly strained NATO-Russia relationship, the specter of a nuclear confrontation constitutes an unacceptable, if lingering, existential threat. Should these perils materialize, the City of Toronto would not be immune from their catastrophic humanitarian impact. Urban population centres, such as Toronto, are the likely target of any nuclear weapons attack.

Yet nuclear-armed states and their allies—including Canada—insist that a comprehensive multilateral effort to achieve nuclear abolition is premature. That they say this more than seven decades after Hiroshima, more than 45 years after the entry into force of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and more than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, has only served to exacerbate widespread frustration about the dismal record of nuclear abolition efforts.

As with the land mines treaty effort, in which Canada was a global leader two decades ago, the growing global movement to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is deeply rooted in an unequivocal recognition of the indiscriminate, catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their use.

Apprehension about Canada’s stand, and the arguments used to justify it, is shared by Canadian civil society experts, academics, former ranking diplomats, and a host of prominent citizens. More than one thousand recipients of the Order of Canada continue to call for urgent Canadian leadership on nuclear disarmament.

Instead, Canada’s policies are more closely aligned with those of nuclear powers than with the growing number of states demanding nuclear abolition. And even though Canada presents itself as a responsible non-nuclear weapons state, it continues to embrace NATO’s overt nuclear deterrence doctrine as a valid security policy, effectively legitimizing the weapons held by its nuclear-armed allies. Now those allies are engaged in a multibillion-dollar modernization of their nuclear arsenals, effectively pushing the abolition goalpost even further.

The city of Toronto has a unique opportunity to set a compelling example for the rest of the nation to follow. Notably, the Government of Canada has opposed the groundbreaking Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted last year by a clear majority in the international community. The obduracy of the Federal Government on this existential matter need not trickle down to the municipal level and I urge the Toronto City Council to reaffirm the city’s status as a nuclear weapons-free zone.

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