The Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition has initiated a new strategy for pressuring the federal government to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by lobbying Toronto City Council.
In the summer of 2017, a dozen peace, faith and environmental groups sent an emergency appeal to Mayor John Tory warning that the world was at the greatest risk of a nuclear catastrophe since the Cuban missile crisis. “In the event of a nuclear blast, the first response and responsibility will lie with the municipal government and the Mayor’s office,” the groups warned.
“Torontonians will be looking to you for guidance and leadership in the most challenging situation that any government could face, greater than any Canadian Mayor has faced before.” The peace activists asked Tory to have the Board of Health examine the current nuclear weapon dangers and to advise City Council what the civic government can do to protect its communities.
When the Mayor failed to respond, the Hiroshima survivor and nuclear weapons abolition activist Setsuko Thurlow passed on a copy of the emergency appeal to Councillor Chin Lee at the August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Day commemoration at the City Hall Peace Garden. Councillor Lee had agreed to participate in the commemoration by reading Tory’s annual peace declaration in the Mayor’s absence.
When the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons subsequently announced that Thurlow would accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN, there was so much Canadian media coverage that Toronto City Council was spurred into action as well. Council and Mayor Tory recognized Thurlow’s peace activism at a City Council meeting on Nov. 7.
Setsuko Thurlow told the Mayor and City Councillors, “This accomplishment is just the beginning of our struggle. We want the elimination of all the nuclear weapons. Each one of us—you and I together—have to keep working to achieve that goal. It’s a question of life and death. It’s massive death we are potentially confronting.”
The day after the presentation, Chin Lee moved, seconded by Mayor Tory, to have City Council reaffirm Toronto as a nuclear weapons-free zone and to request the Toronto Board of Health to hold public hearings on the dangers of nuclear weapons and radiation fallout.
The motion passed unanimously. It acknowledged that “the City of Toronto can play a key role in raising awareness of the devastating impact of nuclear weapons and promote the solidarity of cities toward abolition and prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc chaired the Board of Health public hearing this April 16. Setsuko Thurlow, the psychiatrist Dr. Frank Sommers, and representatives from Physicians for Global Survival, Pax Christi, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Science for Peace, no2nuclearweapons and the Canadian Pugwash Group made representations. There were also written submissions from Project Ploughshares, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Durham Nuclear Awareness, Ryerson University, Greenpeace, Peace Magazine, the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario, Les Artistes pour la paix in Quebec, and the Canadian Red Cross. Two dozen individuals, including Douglas Roche, Canada’s former Ambassador for Disarmament, also sent in written texts.
The Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition also tabled the Board of Health’s own1982 report, Public Health Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War. That report, adopted by City Council, led to a referendum on nuclear weapons in the November 1982 civic election in which 79 per cent of voters supported nuclear disarmament. The following year, City Council first designated Toronto as a nuclear weapons-free zone and prohibited “the production, testing, storage, transportation, processing, disposal or use of nuclear weapons or their components” within Toronto. City Council then also authorized the creation of the Peace Garden on Nathan Phillips Square at a cost of $480,000 as an expression of “our continuing struggle to avoid the devastation of war.”
Dr. Frank Sommers spoke on the psychological dangers created by nuclear weapons. He organized the 1981 Symposium on the Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War that led to the Board of Health’s 1982 Report and the pamphlet distributed to all house holds in Toronto for the 1982 civic election, “You Decide: What one nuclear bomb would do to Toronto.”
Another presenter, Zach Ruiter, urged that the Board of Health investigate the purchase of the GE uranium pellet plant on Lansdowne by the U.S.-based nuclear weapons manufacturer BWX Technologies. The Board agreed to further investigate the health consequences of the Landsdowne plant.
After receiving these in-person and written submissions, the Toronto Board of Health voted unanimously on April 16 to recommend to City Council that it “Request the Government of Canada to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” and “Expressed its support for the City of Toronto’s reaffirmation of its position as a nuclear weapons-free zone.” On April 24, City Council unanimously approved the motion that “City Council request the Government of Canada to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” The City Clerk’s Office sent the text of the two motions to Prime Minister Trudeau, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, and the Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor on May 11.
Two dozen of the presentations made to the Board of Health have been posted on the HNDC website hiroshimadaycoalition.ca for peace activists in other cities who may be able to lobby their City Councils to pass similar motions asking the federal government to ratify the UN Ban Treaty.
The HNDC continues with its lobbying efforts this August 6 with its annual Hiroshima Nagasaki Day commemoration at the Toronto City Hall Peace Garden. The featured speaker will be Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of the International Steering Group of ICAN and co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. He is also co-Founder and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, IPPNW’s US affiliate. He will speak on “The Growing Danger of Nuclear War and What We Can Do About It.” Setsuko Thurlow will give her reaction to the refusal of the Canadian government to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.