Canada must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Mar 16, 2023 | OP-ED, Opinion

In order to safeguard the security of all Canadians — and human civilization — Canada should sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The treaty, for which the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, has been signed by 92 countries and entered into force in 2021. ICAN labels Canada as a “nuclear weapons endorser.”

Canada has consistently voted against a resolution calling on all countries to sign, ratify and comply with the TPNW at the UN since 2018. As a NATO member, Canada supports the retention and potential use of nuclear weapons on its behalf.”

On Jan. 24, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward to 90 seconds, citing Russia’s “thinly veiled” threats to use nuclear weapons and the risk of escalation in the Russia-Ukraine war byaccident, intention, or miscalculation.”

This is the closest to midnight — the end of human civilization, if not humanity itself— the clock has ever been.

Only weeks later Russia suspended involvement in New START, the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement with the United States.

On Tuesday, a U.S. surveillance drone was downed by a Russian fighter jet, raising fears of escalation between the two nuclear superpowers.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill calls the Russia-Ukraine war a proxy war and highlighted that the U.S. has been providing Ukraine with “actionable intelligence from satellite imagery, from drone imagery that Ukraine uses to strike Russian targets.

From Russia’s perspective, this is a provocation on the part of the United States, Scahill said.

This does not alter the fact of Russian aggression both in this instance and in their illegal invasion, but it does show how both nuclear superpowers could misinterpret each other’s intentions in the fog of war.

James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, estimates there is a 20 per cent chance Putin would use a tactical nuclear weapon if Ukraine attempted to retake Crimea.

Canada, as a NATO member, lives under the United States’ nuclear umbrella. Some Canadians may find this reassuring.

David Welch, a university research chair and political science professor at the University of Waterloo and Balsillie School of International Affairs, told Humber News he was emphatic that, despite possessing no nuclear weapons of our own, Russia’s nuclear war plans include “plenty” of nuclear bombs for Canada.

Nuclear bombs dropped on cities from Vancouver to Montreal would only be the beginning. A peer-reviewed article in Nature Food released last year revealed that in the event of full-scale nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, 360 million people would die directly from the bombs.

Such a war would loft black soot from burning cities 10 to 50 kilometres above the earth’s surface where it would remain for more than a decade and cool the earth enough to wipe out agriculture in the northern hemisphere.

By the second year after nuclear war began, more than 5.3 billion people could starve to death.

Even a smaller, regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan—based on population and nuclear arsenal trends by 2025—would cause a nuclear winter. The ensuing global famine could kill over 33 million Canadians.

Canada’s involvement with nuclear weapons is more extensive than many may realize.

Canadian soldiers, along with British and Americans, were exposed to “dangerously high radiation levels as part of a radiation detection unit for live nuclear tests in the 1950s.

The Eldorado mine in Great Bear Lake provided uranium for the Manhattan Project and caused cancer in the Dene peoples who carried it without being informed of the danger.

Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War, has been a lifetime advocate of nuclear abolition. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 along with ICAN.

She wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2020 calling on him to join the TPNW and express regret for Canada’s role in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thurlow knows the horrors of nuclear weapons first-hand. She was 13 years old when a bomb made in part with Canadian uranium was dropped on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people.

In her letter, she described the experience in one sentence.

“It was truly hell on earth.”

It is not only prudent that Canada join the TPNW. It is a debt that is owed.