Canada and Chemical Weapons: Science for Peace Testifies to the Biological and Chemical Defence Review Committee

Members of Science for Peace met with the Biological and Chemical Defence Review Committee (BCDRC) on 29 May 1995 in what has become a yearly discussion session. The Minister of National Defence set up the BCDRC in 1990 as an indirect result of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) concerns and reports in the media of past and possibly present nefarious activities of the Canadian military, including testing of chemical agents on humans, stocks of tons of chemical weapons, ocean dumping of agents and the general secrecy surrounding Canada’s chemical and biological warfare (CBW) defence program.

The BCDRC is a panel of three academics, chaired by Professor Clive Holloway (Chemistry, York) and escorted by a retired general, who generally defends the Defence Department at these meetings (though not the Foreign Affairs Department.) The BCDRC is a kind of oversight committee. It produces formal reports annually and has a mandate to act as a liaison with community groups to relate its findings. Science for Peace has been the most consistent group in providing the BCDRC with input.

The BCDRC reported that chemical warfare (CW) verification was recently placed under the aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and this resulted in a drastic cut of defence research in the area. (The main research effort at the Department of National Defence [DND] has become biological weapons detection, defence and antidote development). Apparently DFAIT will not allocate funds for DND researchers and DND will not take on an area in which it has no mandate. The erosion of Canadian expertise is the result. Canada, through its DND research program, had a strong role in international efforts to detect CW agents. The cuts are a source of frustration to the military as well as to the members of Science for Peace. Science for Peace found itself in the unusual position of regretting cuts in DND programs.

An area of Science for Peace concern in the past has been the issue of public access to information about CBW agents and quantities under DND control. Quantification is important because Canada has international agreements to carry out research on such agents for defensive purposes, e.g. how to identify the agents and protect personnel. Not only are such lists now available, but any contracts the military has with outside agencies with relation to work on CBW agents is also subject to public scrutiny. Such documents were examined by the Science for Peace members. A continuing issue is that private sector personnel working on such contracts should be subject to the high safety standards required by the military for such work.

In the biological research area, we were reassured that no new pathogens are being created but that DNA _technology is being used to find more effective ways of identifying old ones. Other research relates to protective clothing for personnel working in contaminated environments.

DND participated in exercises to ensure that emergency teams and equipment can be mobilised quickly when needed. Because of the dispersal of equipment and personnel over the country, this requires planning and coordination. However no emergency response exercises have been carried out using staff with expertise in responding to chemical and biological attacks. The need to remedy this deficiency was highlighted by the recent gas attacks in Japan by a fanatical terrorist group.

One of our on-going complaints is that DFAIT is not moving on declassifying secret treaties and memoranda of understanding (mOUs) which Canada has with foreign countries relating to CBW research. In accordance with the UN Charter (Article 102), all international agreements must be registered and published by the UN secretariat. There are no exceptions and Canada has an obligation to submit these treaties for publication.

We found encouragement in this year’s meeting in that many of our previous concerns had been dealt with and there appears to be a climate of openness which was less evident previously. We note that the BCDRC is the only oversight committee of its type in the world (so far as we are aware) and is now in its 5th year. It seems to be filling the role envisioned for it with good acceptance by the military and continuing liaison with the public.

On 6 June Walter Dorn appeared as a witness before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The bill to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was being considered by the committee. Walter proposed strengthening the inspection regime.

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