COVER

Refining the arguments against arms

MICHAEL CLUGSTON March 4 1985
COVER

Refining the arguments against arms

MICHAEL CLUGSTON March 4 1985

Refining the arguments against arms

CANADA

COVER

After police arrested 14 peace demonstrators in Halifax last December, then-defence minister Robert Coates declared that the Canadian peace movement was weak, and that, he added, was “right and proper.” Coates’s information was as poor as his diplomacy. The Canadian peace movement appears to be flourishing, in spite of frequently being declared dead by its critics. From a few dozen groups in the 1970s the movement has grown to embrace more than 1,000 organizations claiming at least 300,000 members across the country—and next month representatives will meet in Vancouver to form a national association. “We’ve won the battle for public opinion, and we’ve moved light-years in educating the public,” says James Stark, president of Operation Dismantle, one of Canada’s largest disarmament organizations. “Now we have to get public opinion reflected in government policy, and in that we’re not doing so well.”

Lobbying: The number of demonstrators who turn out at public demonstrations is no longer an accurate measure of the strength of the peace movement. Instead, its energies are increasingly channelled into political lobbying and public information efforts. Relatively small groups of Canadians turned out to protest last week’s cruise missile test even though, as Valerie Klassen of the Winnipeg Co-ordinating Committee for Disarmament, notes: “There is actually a lot of opposition to the tests. It’s upsetting when the press portrays us as a small group.”

In fact, it is increasingly evident that to a large extent the peace movement is preaching to the converted. Last August a Gallup poll showed that 85 per cent of Canadians supported a verifiable nuclear weapons freeze. In the past three years 193 Canadian municipalities have held referendums on nuclear disarmament, and in more than 75 per cent of them the result was overwhelmingly in favor. As well, more than 90 towns and cities have taken the symbolic step of declaring themselves nuclear weapons-free zones.

Even conservative observers acknowledge that they are aware of the trend. “I think it is very positive that there is increased interest in the peace movement,” says Col. Brian MacDonald, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. “Anything that raises the salience of security is viable, but we wish they would get more concerned with hearing all viewpoints.” _

The peace movement, he noted, currently is made up of groups and individuals ranging from the eminently respectable to zealots whose single-minded fervor prevents rational discussion with those who hold opposing views. In fact, the Canadian peace movement is a collection of disparate groups sharing the same fundamental goal of promoting disarmament—but not necessarily the same idea of how to achieve it. The peace movement includes groups that are little more than fronts for the Soviet Communist parties, as well as activist organizations favoring civil disobedience. But many peace organiza-

tions—such as the Ontario-based Project Ploughshares, which is funded and associated with most of Canada’s Protestant and Roman Catholic churches —have their roots solidly in the mainstream of society. Operation Dismantle, whose membership has risen to 7,800 from 4,500 over the past year and a half, operates on a budget of $300,000 a year —funds contributed mainly by individuals and used to pay for staff travel and other functions.

Negligible: Despite its growing respectability, the movement’s influence over public policy is still negligible. Last year at the United Nations Canada voted in favor of only 11 of 45 arms control resolutions, although Mexico voted for

42 and the Soviet Union for 35. In 1983 the Liberal government of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau approved cruise missile tests in spite of the fact that 52 per cent of Canadians polled on the subject registered disapproval of the test program. “I don’t think there is any piece of major legislation that we can say we’ve had a major influence on,” says Murray Thomson, a board member of Project Ploughshares. He notes that a possible exception might be Ottawa’s creation last June of the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (CHS), which studies peace as well as defence issues. Thomson also contends

that the peace movement has had “a considerable influence” on the arms control and disarmament division of Ottawa’s external affairs department, which now has a fund worth $700,000 for disarmament research.

Few members of the peace movement expect to achieve their goals in the near future. “We’re talking about changing people’s fundamental attitudes toward war,” says Stark. “If it takes three centuries to disarm, we’ve done well.” In the meantime, he notes, there are small triumphs: “I haven’t been called a communist for over a year. It’s wonderful.”

-<dc:creator>MICHAEL CLUGSTON</dc:creator> in Ottawa, with

Terry Hargreaves

Hilary Mackenzie

Garry Moir