YOU MIGHT CALL IT "GROUND ZERO CANADA." The headquarters of Canadian Forces Air Defence Command in North Bay houses two of the eight Region Operations Control Centres for NORAD. It is the Canadian command centre for the American nuclear infrastructure. It is probably the prime target in Canada, for those multi-megaton Soviet missiles. And the people who work in this, the only hardened command centre in North America other than NORAD headquarters in Colorado, have no illusions that the 600 feet of solid rock over their heads will protect them from a nuclear attack. For a group of peace activists, it was natural to be a little apprehensive as we climbed aboard a bus that would take us down the 2-kilometre tunnel into the very bowels of NORAD. But our hosts were doing their best to put us at ease, and there was no sign above the tunnel reading "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!"
There were indeed some ominous signs at the bottom of the tunnel--one in red letters pointing to the "DECONTAMINATION AREA," and one at the door of the cafeteria that was our first stop on the tour: "Mushroom Hilton Lounge." But no, we weren't being nuked, or even subjected to black humor. General Morton later explained that "mushroom" is the honorary title conferred on staff people when they have logged 1800 hours underground. And when he greeted us personally, introduced us to his staff officers, and launched a briefing session that lasted nearly three hours, it was clear that this was no routine tour of NORAD HQ. This was a rare opportunity for dialogue between the military and its critics.
It came about by chance. An article relating to NORAD in the North Bay Nugget had prompted nearly simultaneous responses from Major General Morton, head of both NORAD and Fighter Group in Canada, and the North Bay Peace Alliance. Coincidentally, the Peace Alliance had requested a tour of the base. General Morton welcomed this as an opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings. As it turned out, the group of about 30 who took part included people not only from North Bay but also a representative from each of New Liskeard, Muskoka, Sudbury, and Toronto.
General Morton began the briefing by saying that we (peace groups) and they (the military establishment of North America) share the same goal (prevention of war). We had all heard this approach before, of course, and knew how quickly that path can fork. It didn't take long. As soon as the subject of NATO training exercises in Labrador arose, the peace offensive began. What about the rights of the Innu who live there? Studies were being done to assure that low-level flights would not endanger their livelihood. But were the studies being done by unbiased investigators, and would they be completed before an expanded NATO facility in Goose Bay was a fait accompli? General Morton's claim that those low-level flights are preparations for strictly conventional warfare also met some skepticism.
As the officers of his staff presented a series of three briefings, each one followed by another gruelling round of questions, General Morton's patience began to wear a little thin. Although he corrected us on a few matters of factual detail, what really bothered him was that we were so suspicious. How could we doubt that our government and military had our interests at heart and were telling us the whole truth?
This brought up the issue of the clause which was quietly dropped from the NORAD agreement in 1981