Report of the Meeting on Issues

The year 1997-98 year concluded with an “issues” meeting, held in the Physics Department of the University of Toronto on 9 May 1998 prior to the AGM. It was chaired by Professor Alan Slavin of Trent University. The reports of the Coordinator and of seven Working Groups were discussed. These reports are available in the Science for Peace office. The following summarizes the reports of each working group:

Working Group Coordinator’s Report (Derek Paul)

Discussion focused on the MAI, particularly the agenda of the Alternatives Committee of PAMAI (People Against the MAI). In answer to a question John Valleau explained that, far from looking for a replacement Agreement on Investment, the Alternatives Committee was exploring the host of social and political understandings that should underpin the whole progress of investment, business, and commerce so as to steer globalization away from its simplistic objectives of profit and power that presently are undermining so much human welfare and environmental protection, and even threatening democracy itself.

Working Group on Scientific Cooperation with Cuba (Tanya Zakrisen)

The focus was primarily on the need to raise awareness of the special needs of Cuban scientists and students who find themselves very much cut off from their colleagues in other countries. Tanya has been able to raise the awareness of students and at least one professor in her field of studies at the University of Toronto.

Working Group on United Nations Reform (Hanna Newcombe)

Discussions centred mainly on getting the USA to pay its dues. It was agreed that the SfP Board should be asked to send a letter to Lloyd Axworthy, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, congratulating him on his speech delivered recently at the Kennedy School, Harvard University, on the occasion of a conference on UN Reform, in which he stressed the vital importance of the United States making its mandatory contributions to the UN in full and on time.

It was mentioned that the USA has recently indicated readiness to pay its dues, subject to one condition. Hanna Newcombe reminded us that the UN dues are mandatory under the UN Charter, and are not subject to conditions.

In response to a question on international interventions, Hanna said that the UN record, though far from perfect, is much better than that of interventions by individual countries.

There was a brief mention of the excellent report on the activities of the General Assembly of the UN for 1997, by Newton Bowles. The report was written for The Group of 78, and can be obtained from Hanna, at the Peace Research Institute, Dundas.

Working Group on Landmines (Patience Abah and Tom Davis)

Patience and Tom responded to many questions on the Mines Action Canada program on Landmines removal, to wit, a competition that is at present directed primarily to engineering students and faculty. There will be several prizes of $5,000 each. It was felt that it should be opened to all post-secondary contestants. The competition focuses on new technical ideas for getting rid of the millions of landmines now covering so much of the land in many countries.

Specific information was requested on the $100,000,000 that the federal government has promised for demining the world; how was this money to be distributed? It was pointed out that the moneys actually granted should be monitored, because the stated sum could be little more than rhetoric, if past experience in analogous cases is any guide.

Working Group on Genetic Manipulation and Cloning

In a brief discussion it was stated that all uses of biotechnology to enhance pathogenicity were unethical and that research on these avenues should be discontinued everywhere. It was noted, however, that there can be beneficial results of such research. There is a need for a social framework within which to decide what to do with this technical advance.

Working Group on Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (Alan Phillips, Shirley Farlinger)

Alan added three items to his working group’s report on Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. These were 1) the statement of Ambassador Moher at the UN Preparatory Committee for the Review of the NonProliferation Treaty, to the effect that the nuclear-weapon powers should be negotiating to reduce their stockpiles of these weapons to zero; 2) an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on the appalling effects of an inadvertent launch, and 3) the report of an official British think tank that stated that elimination of nuclear weapons has entered the mainstream of security discussion.

Terry Gardner mentioned Doug Roche’s planned across-Canada tour in the fall of 1998.

A brief discussion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) led to the conclusion that, although the USA has found ways around the Treaty by exploding subcritical devices that do not violate the word of the Treaty though they certainly violate its spirit, there were diplomatic and other merits in the Treaty itself and in maintaining it.

Working Group on Energy (Helmut Burkhart and Peter Shepherd)

All members of the working group recognize the ultimate need to move to renewable energy sources in all phases of energy usage. However, the immediate predicament of Ontario requires pragmatic thinking and action. Myron Gordon defined the electrical generation problems as follows: on the one hand there is the question of whether nuclear electricity is appropriate for Third World countries. On the other hand no new nuclear reactors will be built in North America in the near future. This is particularly significant in the context of Ontario Hydro’s aging reactors and large debt.

Other discussants recalled that in the report “Energy after Rio” nuclear power was stated to be “prohibitively expensive” (all aspects of cost being included).

The working group’s proactive stand on sustainable energy does not leave many options in view of the urgency of Ontario’s supply problem and the determination of the Ontario Government to pursue its privatization agenda.

Derek Paul said that a present objective of the working group is to establish suitable contacts with the Ontario Ministry of Energy, and to extend contacts at the federal ministry, Natural Resources Canada, in Ottawa.

Working Group on Climate Change (Derek Paul)

Questions and answers focused mainly on the job opportunities (360,000 new jobs over 10 years) that had been projected by the Sierra Club’s Rational Energy Program.