Momentum Builds at Nanoose

By Laurie MacBride

WITH WINTER HERE, LIFE AT THE Nanoose Peace Camp is centered around the physical challenges posed by living in an exposed Vancouver Island location. Since we intend to stay until at least April, comfortable winter survival is now one of our main concerns. We've lined the tipis, installed wood stoves, built windbreaks, dug rain run-off trenches, and collected raingear, warm blankets, and tarps from local supporters.

Since we began the full-time Peace Camp on April 1 of last year, it's been the most visible part of the Nanoose Conversion Campaign (NCC). Our three large tipis, located beside the Island Highway on the shore of the Bay, have attracted much attention and people from all over the world have spent time there.

Why the Peace Camp? The reason for its existence is the presence of a little-known but extremely important undersea weapons testing range just off Nanoose Bay in Georgia Strait (between Vancouver Island and the mainland). The Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges (CFMETR) is nominally a Canadian facility but in reality operates under the wing of the U.S. Navy base in Keyport, Washington. U.S. ships and nuclear submarines use the range, a seventy-five square mile area, to test and develop the latest in their anti-submarine warfare arsenal. One such weapon system, the ASROC or anti-submarine rocket, can be nuclear armed. CFMETR came into being after the U.S. Ambassador asked Canada to construct a torpedo test range in Georgia Strait. In 1976 the agreement was extended for ten years, until April of 1986. But the U.S. clearly has no intention of leaving Nanoose. They have installed millions of dollars worth of computer and video monitoring equipment and lined the sea bottom off Nanoose Bay with highly sensitive acoustical devices. Our hope is that public pressure, aroused by the Peace Camp, may prevent the government's renewing the agreement.

But the Peace Camp is only one part of the overall campaign. At our formation in the fall of 1984, the NCC defined three goals:

On this last point, the NCC is presently researching models for conversion and doing a study to assess a variety of proposals. A number of alternatives have been discussed, including conversion to a shellfish toxicology research center for a mariculture industry (Nanoose Bay is well-known for its abundance of shellfish).

Face-Painting and Leafletting

The campaign was launched officially on Remembrance Day, November 11, 1984, with a peace walk to the Nanoose Base. Three hundred protestors took part in the walk and then circled under the watchful eyes of CFMETR's security staff and the RCMP. Since then we've demonstrated outside the base many times. In June, to coincide with the CFMETR open house, we erected a huge circus tent and held a Nuclear Free Theatre, complete with performances by the Redheart Theatre Collective, as well as clowns, balloons, face-painting, and leafletting. During the summer we focused mainly on the Peace Camp, where we held various special events. Daily, as in summers past, the Vancouver Island Network for Disarmament's Peace Truck was stationed across the highway, staffed with volunteers from most of the Island's peace groups who took turns providing coffee and information on Nanoose to passersby.

In August there were a number of visits by U.S. nuclear attack submarines, which prompted demonstrations at the base. Ironically, the U.S.S. Flasher arrived on Hiroshima Day, August 6th. Like all U.S. subs, it carries SUBROC nuclear depth charges. Following it (three times in seven weeks) came the U.S.S. Salt Lake City, a Los Angeles class submarine believed to be carrying at least eight Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles. With each missile having a warhead of some 100 kilotons, the combined firepower would be equivalent to more than a hundred Hiroshimas. The thought ot tranquil Nanoose Bay playing host to this awesome destructive force brought forth scores of demonstrators from a number of towns.

The likely presence of nuclear cruise missiles is a major concern and it should be noted that over the next few years the U.S. plans to put 4000 nuclear and conventional Tomahawks on board all of its submarines and many of its surface ships. Of course, this will end all possibility of verification and thus the future of arms control. Furthermore, with the Canadian government refusing to force the Americans to confirm or deny the presence of these weapons aboard their ships, we will have no idea how many such weapons will be in Canadian waters. Both Liberal and Conservative Defence Ministers have told us that they will continue not to press the U.S. for disclosures. Indeed, Major Cyr, a spokesperson for the Canadian Forces at Esquimalt, recently stated that nuclear weapons are "welcome" in Canadian harbors.

"New Zealand" Solution

We cannot accept this position.And so we are encouraging Canadians to push our government to adopt the "New Zealand Solution"--that is, to exclude U.S. vessels unless it is confirmed that they are not carrying nuclear weapons. We believe that the U.S. can be moved on this issue. Last spring they made a pledge to the People's Republic of China not to bring nuclear weapons into their harbors. Surely Canada, a closer ally and even presumably a "friend," should be entitled to the same consideration. But it is obviously up to our own government to insist on this.

Realizing that it will not be easy to influence the government without massive public support, the NCC produced a slide show presentation which our members have taken to communities all around British Columbia.. Last summer we took it to a few U.S. groups and then, last fall, we took the show on a National Outreach Tour. Later, we produced a videotape which has gone out to groups across Canada. . In September there was a civil disobedience action in which a letter was sent to the Commander of the U.S.S. Salt Lake City demanding that he leave Canadian waters. When no reply was received, demonstrators sat down in front of the base on the roadway, vowing to stay until the submarine left. They were arrested and charged, but the charges were dropped. On November 11th, several hundred people took part in a Peace Walk,with a rally and a theatrical "die-in" outside the base. We demonstrate each time a nuclear weapon-equipped vessel arrives, hence many demonstrations are organized on short notice.

Are They Negotiating?

With only a couple of months remaining until the current agreement will expire, probably Canada and the U.S. have already entered into negotiations. In 1976 the agreement was renewed in secret, and even expanded to include a test area in Jervis Inlet. Concerned that this will happen again, two petitions were circulated and then presented to Parliament in November by NDP M.P. Jim Manly The first calls for the government to support our three goals, and the second for a public inquiry into the Nanoose agreement before its re-negotiation. We have been lobbying other M.P.s to support these ideas. In the absence of such an official inquiry, the Gabriola Island Peace Association organized a "People's Enquiry into CFMETR" for January. That event will be reported in the next issue of Peace Magazine. Those who wish to assist the campaign can contribute in many ways. Money is needed, and also subscribers to our newsletter. Contact us at Nanoose Conversion Campaign, Box 1981, Parksville, B.C. V0R 2S0.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986, page 8. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Laurie MacBride here

Peace Magazine homepage