TORONTO -- In late March, US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger announced that US allies had until May 25 to decide whether or not to participate in research for President Reagan's "Strategic Defense Initiative," commonly known as "Star Wars."
The Canadian peace movement responded almost immediately. Within 48 hours, peace groups had already held meetings to plan a response to the announcement.
Peace groups are organizing a phone blitz and letter writing campaign to Prime Minister Mulroney, External Affairs Minister Clark, Defence Minister Nielson and their local MPs.
Most groups are using variations on a "pledge card" developed by the Toronto Disarmament Network
outreach literature. The card is an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet divided into three sections, one of which consists of four actions people can pledge to take.
The first pledge is to write to one or all of the above mentioned Members of Parliament. Secondly, people are requested to phone one, or all four, of these people any number of times. Pledge three is to raise sufficient funds to purchase as many ads in large newspapers as possible. Finally, people are asked to pledge themselves to lobby their MP either alone or with their local peace group.
The other two sections of the pledge card are postcards which can be sent to the Prime Minister and to local MPs, asking that they not involve Canada in the Star Wars program.
The Toronto Disarmament Network kicked off the campaign with a well-attended press conference on April 9. Launching the campaign on behalf of the TDN were TDN spokesperson Robert Penner, Joanne Clarke, peace coordinator of the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada, Bob White, Canadian Director of the United Auto Workers, and economist Mel Watkins. Both White and Watkins disputed the government's claim that Star Wars will create jobs and White pledged his union's support to the Stop Star Wars campaign.
Eight thousand pledge cards were distributed to a sell out crowd of 2,000 people who attended a public lecture by Dr. Helen Caldicott in Toronto on April 12. Caldicott's lecture inspired immediate response from those in the audience, many of whom committed them selves to taking action. A steady stream of pledge cards is coming in the mail. The Toronto Peace Education Centre (TPEC) has also prepared a fact sheet, assembled a kit containing Star Wars information, and has planned Star Wars education sessions for May 8th and 15th.
Project Ploughshares' national office has sent a mailing to all their local groups, inviting them to participate in the campaign. Earlier, they had sent an information package about Star Wars to the groups. This package is still available.
Colleen Bostwick, of Vancouver's End the Arms Race (EAR) coalition, reported on Ear's plan to launch the campaign on April 27, at their annual "Walk for Peace." 10,000 cards focussing on Star Wars will be distributed at the walk. "We expect a tremendous response at the April 27 Walk," Bostwick said. Member groups have already begun to distribute literature and have written letters to politicians and the local press.
According to Joanna Miller, the priority of the Ploughshares Saskatoon group will be writing personal letters to the Prime Minister and MPs.
The North Bay Alliance has issued a press release, produced a ten-page information package, and will be using the pledge card.
The Ottawa Disarmament Coalition has taken responsibility for those tasks appropriate to an Ottawa-based group. Letters were sent to all the MPs and all the unions based in Ottawa. To date, Dennis McDermott, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and John Fryer, President of the National Union of Provincial Government Employees, have endorsed the campaign. The ODC is still contacting other major union leaders for their support, and they will be contacting all of the provincial federations of labour. According to Michael Ostroff, executive member of the ODC, response has been phenomenal at the local level. Only one day after they began to distribute literature, they received $500 in modest donations.
Across the country, other groups and coalitions active in the campaign include Ploughshares -- St. John's, the Waterloo Region Peace Network and the Winnipeg Coordinating Committee for Disarmament. Several groups have expressed interest in coordinating efforts through the TDN to take out large newspaper ads.
The positive response generated by the Stop Star Wars campaign has been exciting and re-affirming for peace activists in Canada. According to Brian Eng of the TDN, "through the public education fundamental to this campaign, the active peace movement and its base of community support will become more articulate and therefore better able to debate and present the case for disarmament. "