Setsuko Thurlow’s Appeal to Justin Trudeau

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Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:

As a Hiroshima survivor, I was honoured to jointly accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017
on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. With the
approaching 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on
August 6th and 9th, I have written to all the heads of state across the world, asking them
to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and I ask the same of our
After I married my husband, James Thurlow, and first moved to Canada in 1955, I often
wondered what involvement Canada had in the development of the atom bombs that
caused, by the end of 1945, the deaths of over 140,000 people in Hiroshima, 70,000 in
Nagasaki and horrendous devastation and injuries that I personally witnessed as a
thirteen-year old girl. It truly was hell on earth.
I hope you will be able to ask one of your assistants to examine the enclosed document,
“Canada and the Atom Bomb” and to report on its contents to you.
The main points of the document are that Canada, the United States and the United
Kingdom — as wartime allies during World War II — had not only completely
integrated their production of conventional armaments. Canada was also a direct major
participant in the Manhattan Project which developed the uranium and plutonium atom
bombs dropped on Japan. This direct involvement operated at the highest Canadian
political and governmental organizational level.
When Prime Minister Mackenzie King hosted President Roosevelt and British Prime
Minister Winston Churchill in Quebec City in August of 1943, and they signed the
Quebec Agreement for the joint development of the atom bomb, the Agreement — in
Mackenzie King’s words — “made Canada also a party to the development.”
For the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on
August 6th and 9th, I am respectfully requesting that you acknowledge Canada’s
involvement in and contributions to the two atomic bombings and issue a statement
of regret on behalf of the Canadian Government for the immense deaths and suffering
caused by the atom bombs that utterly destroyed two Japanese cities.
This direct Canadian Government involvement (described in the attached research
document) consisted of the following:
—Mackenzie King’s most powerful minister, C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and
Supply, represented Canada on the Combined Policy Committee established to coordinate the joint efforts of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to
develop the atom bomb.
—C.J. Mackenzie, President of the National Research Council of Canada, represented
Canada on a technical subcommittee set up by the Combined Policy Committee to coordinate the work of scientists working on Canadian projects with their colleagues in the
United States.
—The National Research Council of Canada designed and built nuclear reactors at its
Montreal Laboratory and at Chalk River, Ontario, beginning in 1942 and 1944, and
forwarded their scientific discoveries to the Manhattan Project.
—Eldorado Gold Mines Limited began supplying tons of uranium ore from its mine on
Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories to British scientists as well as to American
physicists investigating nuclear fission at Columbia University in New York in October
of 1939.
—When Enrico Fermi succeeded in creating the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear
chain reaction at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1942, he used Canadian
uranium from Eldorado.
—On the advice of C.J. Mackenzie and C.D. Howe, a secret Order in Council on July 15,
1942, allocated $4,900,000 [$75,500,000 in 2020 dollars] for the Canadian Government to
buy sufficient Eldorado stock to have effective control of the company.
—Eldorado signed exclusive contracts with the Manhattan Project in July and December
of 1942 for 350 tons of uranium ore and later an additional 500 tons.
—The Canadian Government nationalized Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited in
January of 1944 and converted the company into a Crown Corporation to secure
Canadian uranium for the Manhattan Project. C.D. Howe stated that “government action
in taking over the Eldorado Mining and Smelting Company was part of the atomic
[bomb] development program.”
—Eldorado’s refinery in Port Hope, Ontario, was the only refinery in North America
capable of refining the uranium ore from the Belgian Congo, the bulk of which (along
with Canadian uranium) was used in the manufacture of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
atom bombs.
—On the advice of C.D. Howe, The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in
Trail, B.C. signed contracts with the Manhattan Project in November of 1942 to produce
heavy water for nuclear reactors to produce plutonium.
—As General Leslie Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project, wrote in his
history Now It Can Be Told, “there were about a dozen Canadian scientists in the Project.”
When Prime Minister Mackenzie King was informed on August 6, 1945 that the atom
bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, he wrote in his diary “We now see what might
have come to the British race had German scientists won the race [to develop the atom
bomb]. It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese
rather than upon the white races of Europe.”
In August of 1998, a delegation from Deline, N.W.T., representing Dene hunters and
trappers employed by Eldorado to carry the sacks of radioactive uranium ore on their
backs for transport to the Eldorado refinery in Port Hope travelled to Hiroshima and
expressed their regret for their unwitting role in the creation of the atom bomb. Many
Dene had themselves died of cancer as a result of their exposure to uranium ore, leaving
Deline a village of widows.
Surely, the Canadian Government should make its own acknowledgement of Canada’s
contribution to the creation of the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Canadians have a right to know how our government participated in the Manhattan
Project that developed the world’s first nuclear weapons.
Since 1988, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized in the House of
Commons for the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, the
Canadian Government has acknowledged and apologized for a dozen historical wrongs.
These included apologies to the First Nations for the Canadian residential school system
that separated young children from their families and sought to deprive them of their
languages and culture.
Prime Minister Mulroney apologized for the internment of Italians as “enemy aliens”
during World War
II. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House for the Chinese head tax
imposed on Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923.
You yourself have acknowledged and apologized in the House for the Komagata Maru
incident in which a shipload of immigrants from India were prohibited from landing in
Vancouver in 1914.
You also apologized in the House for Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s decision in 1939
to reject an asylum request from over 900 German Jews fleeing the Nazis on board the
ship St. Louis, 254 of whom died in the Holocaust when they were forced to return to
You apologized once again in the House for past state-sanctioned discrimination against
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited people in Canada.
Eldorado erected a cement marker at the site of its Port Radium mine that read in capital
letters, “This mine was reopened in 1942 to supply uranium for the Manhattan Project
(the development of the atomic bomb).” But this awareness by Canadians of our
country’s direct participation in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has all
but disappeared from our collective consciousness.
Your father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, courageously brought about the withdrawal
of American nuclear weapons stationed in Canada. I was present at the UN General
Assembly’s First Special Session on Disarmament on May 26, 1978 when, in a fresh
approach to disarmament, he advocated a “strategy of suffocation” as a means of halting
and reversing the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“We are thus not only the first country in the world with the capacity to produce nuclear
weapons that chose not to do so,” he stated, “we are also the first nuclear-armed country
to have chosen to divest itself of nuclear arms.” I was profoundly impressed and thrilled
by his speech to the UN Disarmament Session, so hopeful his courageous initiative
would lead to a curbing of nuclear arms.
As the United States and Russia announce ever more dangerous nuclear weapons
delivery systems and the modernization of their nuclear forces — and the U.S.
contemplates resuming nuclear tests — new voices for nuclear disarmament are urgently
You affirmed that Canada is back in international diplomacy. The approaching 75th
anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th
would be the appropriate moment to acknowledge Canada’s critical role in the creation
of nuclear weapons, express a statement of regret for the deaths and suffering they
caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as announce that Canada will ratify the UN
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Sincerely yours,
Setsuko Thurlow

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