Canada must sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

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by Glenn Michalchuk, Chair, Peace Alliance Winnipeg

Significant anniversaries pose the opportunity to assess the ground we have travelled over those years. This morning the bells in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill tolled 75 times at the exact moment the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This important acknowledgement was the result of the efforts of two MP’s – Elizabeth May and Anthony Rota. Hopefully, it sets a tone for Canada. First to acknowledge its actions in making the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Second to take the important step of ratifying the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons.

The 75th anniversary of the use of atomic weapons against the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki requires us to ask the two questions: did we learn from this great tragedy and has the world moved forward to secure peaceful and respectful relations between the nations and peoples of the world?

The world has learned from this tragedy and it is evident in the persistent movement of people in all countries to remove the scourge of nuclear weapons that threatens all humanity. The campaign against nuclear weapons was the first objective in the anti-war and peace movements that emerged at the height of the Cold War. In its time it has mobilized millions in this struggle. In the 1980’s the scale of the movement was such that it brought out tens of thousands of people in Winnipeg each summer in the Walk for Peace. That movement continues to today. One of its off shoots is the event we gather at tonight – the Lantern Ceremony at which we commemorate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, educate of the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons and urge governments to renounce nuclear weapons along with war and militarism as way of conducting politics.

It is also evident in the Mayors for Peace movement. Mayors for Peace is an initiative begun by the Mayor of Hiroshima in the 1980’s. Winnipeg signed on in 2003. Today almost 8,000 cities are members and the goal is to reach 10,000 by the end of 2020. In June of the this year the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is a member of Mayors for Peace, called on the U.S. to take the lead in a global effort to prevent nuclear war through the nuclear disarmament of countries possessing nuclear weapons.

The call for nuclear disarmament has gained momentum with the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons. The treaty was adopted by the UN in July 2017 and is now in the process of ratification. So far Canada has yet to add its signature to the ratification document. This year’s commemoration of Hiroshima/Nagasaki has been the occasion to focus on the need and imperative for Canada to sign the treaty. You may have heard of Setsuko Thurlow in this regard. She gained international attention when she accepted the Noble Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. She is a Canadian and active in the campaign for nuclear disarmament. She is also a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima. She wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging Canada to sign the treaty. There is definite movement on this front. The Halifax City Council passed a resolution to also urge the Canadian government to sign the treaty. Our local 75th Anniversary Committee hopes to have Winnipeg City Council to do the same.

While the sentiment of the world’s people is unequivocal in terms of eliminating nuclear weapons the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have not penetrated the corridors of power. The same politics that made the use of atomic weapons possible persists to this day. It continues with “old” enemies made “new” as the world skid steers to new confrontations. It is bolstered by “think tanks” such as the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Canada which argue for militarism and war, and powerful media outlets which offer little or no scrutiny to the narrative presented. It is bolstered by the business of war, racism, remnants of colonialism and neo-colonialism and disregard for the sovereignty of nations and peoples. There is not the time in these remarks to present this in detail but an excellent article by Bianaca Mugyenyi published on August 5 in the Toronto Star documents this very well.

In his remarks on this the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima the Mayor said the world must never let this happen again and urged the world to do more to eliminate the danger of nuclear weapons.

There is no “tomorrow” in a nuclear war, even one that did not involve the full exchange of nuclear weapons between the major nuclear powers. Nuclear weapons are in the hands of many countries and it is entirely possible they could be used in a regional conflict.

Therefore, it is imperative that we step up our collective efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and end all wars and aggression. Canada must take action and the first action should be to add its signature to the list of nations that have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

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