Countdown year for US-Nanoose agreement

The Nanoose Conversion Campaign is working to ban nuclear warships and end military testing in Georgia Strait

By Jessica Alford

Underneath the glassy green waters of British Columbia's Georgia Strait, a deadly and silent killer lurks. Gliding around the submerged mountaintops and over the unsuspecting starfish, this U.S. shark of steel makes its way into Nanoose Bay. Very few who live in this neighborhood notice the killer as its black bulky shadow rises out of the water. It surfaces to dock at the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Ranges facility (CFMETR) at Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island. An American Navy Los Angeles Class nuclear-powered and nuclear weapons-capable submarine has just arrived in a Canadian port. For 30 years, these killers have been invited into Nanoose Bay by a joint Canadian-U.S. agreement that allows the U.S. Navy to test its submarine technology in Georgia Strait. However, this agreement comes up for either renewal or cancellation early in 1996.

Michael Candler, coordinator of the Nanoose Conversion Campaign (NCC) makes the daily phone call to CFMETR: "Do you have any vessels in port today?" Lieutenant Commander Dalzell replies, "Yes," although he is not obliged by either government to give out this information. Candler asks what type of vessel it is, if it is nuclear-powered, and if it is carrying nuclear weapons. Dalzell gives the standard military reply: "I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard the vessel." This phone call ends, but the sub in port triggers a chain of media press releases and phone calls to NCC members in communities all around the heavily-populated rim of Georgia Strait.

There's a sub at CFMETR! Get your sign out!" NCC members spread the word. Big, yellow nuclear alert signs begin popping up in front of homes: "Danger! Nuclear Ship at Nanoose!" Candler begins combing his extensive records to find out the history of the sub at port: how many accidents it has had and what type of accidents. He hopes this vessel has a clean record, but doubts it; he has files upon files of documented nuclear reactor coolant leaks, snagged fishing nets, and collisions caused by the U.S. Navy's floating armada and guard vessels.

In fact, on Sept. 10, 1994, a local yachtsman lost his home when a Chilean sub, visiting Nanoose at the invitation of the U.S. Navy, rammed his yacht and sank it in a matter of seconds. Jory Lord was denied compensation by all three governments involved and is presently engaged in litigation. This incident occurred within the high-traffic marine route of Juan de Fuca Strait, but mariners have constant problems with CFMETR's underwater test range called Area Whisky Golf off Nanoose. This huge area, covering a direct route between Vancouver and the Island, is normally reserved for military use five days a week. Many mariners have been caught unexpectedly in Whisky Golf, as there are no markers or lines demarcating it, and can be charged with criminal offenses. Yet it is not a crime for foreign vessels to cruise wherever they like in Canadian waters.

The people, municipalities, and the province of B.C. have made their view clear: British Columbia, on paper, is a nuclear weapons-free zone. However, in B.C.'s coastal waters, the federal government not only allows foreign vessels, but also exempts them from the usual environmental assessment laws. In fact, the Vancouver Island Peace Society (VIP) just lost its appeal suit regarding nuclear vessels in Canadian waters. On Jan. 10, 1995, the Federal Court of Appeal rejected VIP's bid for a public environmental assessment of the passage of foreign warships through Canadian waters. In 1992, Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative cabinet exempted nuclear-equipped warships from environmental assessment and gave the Defence Department blanket approval to authorize future passages. It is ironic that the Canadian government gave the military special privileges at the same time both the Canadian and U.S. governments were drastically cutting military budgets and closing bases all over the continent.

The Nanoose Conversion Campaign has worked for 11 years to convert CFMETR to non-military uses before it is closed by budget cuts. Since CFMETR is the offspring of the Cold War, it was hoped that the Canadian and U.S. governments would naturally cancel the outdated agreement. However, the Canadian military has made it very clear that they want the agreement renewed. NCC needs your help to stop this Cold War mentality which allows the existence of a "Canadian" facility where 75% of everything that happens is done for and by a foreign military. It is time to stop the silent killers from entering Canadian waters and testing their death technology here!

Top 10 Reasons to Convert CFMETR:

10. It is ludicrous to continue investing millions in CFMETR, an obsolete and expensive military facility, when the upcoming Liberal budget promises to slash social programs and health care.

9. U.S. anti-submarine technology is a deadly armament just waiting to kill someone. We don't need or want war; the time has come to stop pursuing death technologies and concentrate on healing the earth and feeding the people.

8. There is no mechanism for the public to participate in decisions regarding CFMETR, its effect on the local environment and economy, or its purpose and goals. Democracy simply does not exist when it comes to CFMETR, the Canadian military, and the Pentagon.

7. All mariners are inconvenienced, even put in danger, by the Whisky Golf test ranges and foreign vessels travelling through our coastal waters. Jory Lord, Rudy Butula, and a host of other mariners have been harrassed, and worse, by the military in this area.

6. All of the municipalities surrounding Georgia Strait have declared themselves nuclear weapons-free zones, as has the province of B.C. Too bad the federal government scorns the wishes of the people by continuing to authorize the passage of nuclear vessels through our waters.

5. Activities on the underwater test range Area Whisky Golf pollute the Strait's marine environment in ways we cannot monitor, measure, or get information about, except when the debris washes ashore or catches in a propeller.

4. The military establishments of both Canada and the U.S. are in a financial vise. Military facilities all over the continent have been closed on short notice. The sooner we start the conversion process, the better prepared we will be when CFMETR is closed.

3. This is Canada, eh. So, why have a "Canadian" facility like CFMETR that exists primarily to serve the U.S. Navy? Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for millions of dollars in infrastructure costs (buildings, wharves, houses for cameras) for the upkeep of this facility.

2. Nuclear submarines pose a deadly threat to Nanoose Bay, Georgia Strait, and all creatures of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. There are no precautions for civilian areas in case of a nuclear accident.

1. The Cold War is over! The "Commie" threat no longer exists! Apparently, the Pentagon and the Canadian Defense Ministry are the only two groups in the world who are unaware of this change in global politics.

The NCC was founded in 1984 with the goals of 1) cancelling the Canada-US agreement which allows the US Navy to use CFMETR at Nanoose Bay; 2) ending all weapons training in Georgia Strait; and 3) converting CFMETR to peaceful, environmentally sound, economically productiv purposes. NCC is a non-profit society with an office at 2-85 Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC V9R 5G3. We have information on CFMETR, the Canadian and American military, and other peace and conversion issues. For information or tell us news, phone or fax either coordinator Michael Candler or administrator Jessica Alford at 604-741-1662.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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