Canada and Biological and Chemical Weapons Research

On 1 June 1992 members of SfP met with the Biological and Chemical Defence Review Committee of the Department of National Defence to discuss areas of concern with respect to the kinds of research being done by the government relating to chemical and biological warfare, the secrecy surrounding the publication of such research and agreements with other nations not subject to public scrutiny.

We were concerned lest the biological warfare research planned for Dugway Proving grounds in the U.S. (which was stopped by citizen action) might be transferred to Canada at Suffield. We were told that the level of containment at Suffield was too low to develop biological warfare agents and that no higher level containment facilities were planned.

We were also concerned that research might be aimed at offensive rather than defensive objectives. We were told that a major thrust of the work by the Defense Research Establishment at Suffield (DRES) was to improve detection of others’ weapons and in fact some of the products of this research were used in the Gulf War.

We also asked if U.S. or other foreign nationals did research at DRES. The answer was no. Industrial users are being attracted to the facilities and some of them may be foreign.

The discussion of our concerns over secrecy was less satisfying. Some of the research done by DRES is published and some is not. There are classified international agreements to which the public has no access which the military claim are under the Jurisdiction of Foreign Affairs. It appears that Canada is less forthcoming with declassifying such agreements than is the U.S.

Our general feeling is that Canada is not violating international treaties in letter or spirit, that our research is indeed aimed at detection and decontamination rather than at developing offensive biological and chemical weapons. We did make it clear that, particularly with the end of the Cold War, the need for secrecy is greatly reduced and that refusal to allow the public access to government documents merely fuels fear about what they contain.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)