Sometime in March a B-52 bomber will take off from a U.S. Air Force base and set its course for the Northwest Territories. It will have a slender, unarmed cruise missile locked under its huge wing. The U.S. defense department calls the first, and only, cruise test in Canada that it will conduct this year a “captive-carry flight.” That means that the 21-foot missile will not fly under its own power. Instead, it will remain firmly shackled to the bomber during the flight down a 1,550mile test range stretching along the Mackenzie Valley toward a Canadian Forces base at Cold Lake, Alta., near the Saskatchewan border. Future flights will end with the missile dropping from the plane and landing in the snow under a parachute, but on the inaugural run the jet bomber and its controversial cargo will return directly to base.
Even with as many as six tests each winter until 1988, the cruise tests seem hardly more dangerous than many other testing and training flights that the United States and other allies have staged over Canada. To that end, the defense department released an environmental report last week in which it concluded that the danger of midair collisions or property damage from a cruise crash along the thinly populated test route was negligible.
But the air-launched missile has generated intense opposition because it is a new weapon designed to carry a nuclear warhead at low altitude to a target 2,400 km away. Indeed, many critics say that testing the cruise in Canada contradicts Prime Minister Trudeau’s own arms control initiative. New Democrat Leader Ed Broadbent, for one, told the
Commons recently that Trudeau cannot question the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s nuclear strategy and at the same time help to develop a new missile “that is part and parcel of that same outmoded strategy.” The government, on the other hand, has argued that permitting the tests is a necessary contribution to the U.S. nuclear deterrent force.
The transport department’s Notice to Airmen, warning them of the B-52’s flight 48 hours before it takes place, will also be a signal to many disarmament groups across the country who have scheduled demonstrations for the first Saturday after the announcement of the test. The groups are also planning a second day of protest marches on April 28. On March 3 eight
groups planned to light “fires of resistance” along the 161-km-wide cruise test safety corridor in towns between Fort St. James, B.C., and the Cold Lake base. Then, a “peace petition caravan” consisting of two buses, one travelling from British Columbia and the other coming from Newfoundland, will gather signatures for delivery in Ottawa. They hope to arrive in the midst of a federal election campaign expected later this year.
On Parliament Hill itself, three hardy protesters have camped out with only sleeping bags and a plastic tent for shelter for almost a year. Their ragged, unsightly “peace camp” has drawn both admiration and annoyance from MPs and tourists alike. Said camper Stephanie Coe, 20, from Montreal: “If Canada refuses to test the cruise, then the camp will go. But if they do test, the fight still has not been won [and the camp will stay].”
Not far from the peace camp last week, seven Supreme Court of Canada judges contemplated a ruling on last July’s cabinet decision to permit the cruise flights. In a final effort to halt the tests, a coalition of 26 peace groups and labor unions appeared before the court in mid-February asking it to overturn a lower court decision and send the issue to trial in the Federal Court of Canada. For its part, the government argued that the courts have no authority to review cabinet decisions affecting national defence or international relations. After a hearing lasting almost two days, the judges reserved their decision without indicating when they would deliver a ruling. Such a ruling could set an important precedent, establishing new limits on cabinet powers—and determining whether judges have jurisdiction over missile flights. JOHN HAY
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