Toronto Wants Zero Nuclear Weapons

Mayor David Miller hosted a gathering of Torontonians in the council chamber of Toronto’s City Hall on November 13 and 14. He greeted us warmly and then settled back to watch a live, interactive streaming video on a giant screen of his counterpart in Hiroshima, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, the president of Mayors for Peace — an organization to which Miller himself belongs. As Mayor Akiba noted in his speech, the great tragedies of history take their names from cities— from Guernica to Detroit, Stalingrad, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His organization is making nuclear weapons into a municipal issue, and by now 3240 cities worldwide have joined.

Mayor Akiba was followed in the initial session of the Zero Nuclear Weapons Forum by the British High Commissioner, Anthony Cary, and finally by the leading historian of nuclear weapons, Jonathan Schell. Then the moderator, Alexa McDonough, fielded questions from the audience. It was a splendid beginning.

The following day was full, with two lengthy forum sessions and a workshop. We began with another hook-up from overseas. Pavel Podvig spoke to us on the big screen from Geneva, then answered questions from the other panelists and the audience, moderated by Toronto Star journalist Olivia Ward. Podvig is a Stanford University scholar specializing in Russian and American nuclear weaponry, and the ongoing negotiations to replace the START treaty with one yielding even deeper cuts in the two arsenals. Podvig was followed by Professor Trevor Findlay of Carleton University, who spoke about the challenges of monitoring compliance with nuclear treaties, and by Project Ploughshare’s founder, Ernie Regehr, who paid special attention to NATO’s strategic policies, which still rely on nuclear weapons.

After a hasty lunch, the Canadian Pugwash group presented a discussion of their proposal to organize a nuclear weapon free zone in the Arctic. With Steven Stapes moderating, the panelists consisted of Adele Buckley, Michael Wallace and Michael Byers, who has just published a new book, “Who Owns the Arctic?”

The final forum was focused on the challenge of arousing political will in a population that would definitely prefer to see the abolition of nuclear weapons but, too often, has given up hope. We were invigorated by the streaming video presence of Rebecca Johnson from London. In Toronto the other panelists were two former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament, Christopher Westdal and Douglas Roche. Westdal reminded us that what we need is not more promises in the form of new treaties, but rather to have old promises kept. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was promised long ago and has never yet entered into effect. He would have us promote that as the primary order of business. For his part, Roche pursues a harder goal: a nuclear weapons convention leading to complete abolition of nuclear weapons. He asked the co-sponsors of the forum (Canadian Pugwash Group, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Physicians for Global Survival, and Science for Peace ) to launch a campaign for 5,000 individual letters to reach Prime Minister Harper, calling for Canada to pro-actively promote nuclear disarmament, beginning in May at the Non-Proliferations Review Conference.