Court Test: The Legality of Nuclear War


VANCOUVER-Operation Dismantle's appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to stop the testing of cruise missiles was a turning point in the structure of the Canadian government. The immediate outcome was disappointing to the peace movement, since the court refused to stop cruise testing. However, the case did establish the principle that all acts of Parliament were to be subject to the court's review, including govemment decisions involving foreign policy, since Parliament itself may not violate the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter.

The Supreme Court held, on May 9, that "it is simply not possible for a Court, even with the best available evidence, to do more than speculate upon the likelihood of the Federal Cabinet's decision to test the cruise missile resulting in an increased threat of nuclear war." This precedent-setting decision would seem to invite groups to consider bringing forth new cases in which clear questions are raised that are capable of being proven before the court.

Such a case is being brought by Pacific Interfaith, who will be asking the courts to declare that nuclear weapons are illegal and thereby create the world's first judicial nuclear weapon free zone by declaring nuclear weapons illegal in Canada. The interfaith group notes that the Canadian government has agreed to permit B5 2 bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, to be stationed at Canadian air bases in times of international tension, and also has agreed to allow nuclear depth charges to be stationed at a Comox base. Moreover, U.S. ships with nuclear capability have been allowed to enter Canadian Territorial waters and nuclear-capable U.S. airplanes fly in Canadian airspace and land on Canadian soil.

Such acts by the Canadian government contravene numerous international agreements to which it is signatory, says the group's lawyer. To mention only a few such conventions as examples, it is illegal to carry out atrocities against civilians, to target hospitals, to use poison gases, to modify the environment in warfare. Yet nuclear weapons will destroy unselectively all people, all buildings, and all natural environments by a variety of means, including poisoning the air with radiation and other pollutants. The lawyers insist that the Canadian government is violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by its involvement in these crimes against humanity. It can be charged, among other things, with violating the Geneva Conventions Act; Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act; Canada Shipping Act; Environmental Contaminants Act; Criminal Code; the United Nations Act; and the Clear Air Act.

In addition to the religious organizations who have already indicated their willingness to be plaintiffs in such a suit against the Canadian government, other organizations, such as town councils, unions, women's organization, native groups, and peace and environmental groups could also join in by supporting this legal action. A wide sponsorship will indicate, as polls have already done, that the government's actions are contrary to the wishes of the Canadian people. A broad sponsorship will also help persuade the courts that a consensus has developed in Canada that the courts should recognize in declaring nuclear weapons illegal. If successful, the Canadian precedent could he used around the world in helping to outlaw nuclear weapons. Individuals interested in further analysis of the movement to outlaw nuclear weapons should refer to Jonathan Schell's book, The Abolition. Groups interested in becoming plaintiffs should contact Torrie and Sloan, Barristers and Solicitors, 1211-1221 Bidwell Street, Vancouver, B.C. Phone 604/683-8111.

Ontarians Planning Peace Conference


OTTAWA- The second annual Ontario Peace Conference will be held at Carleton University in Ottawa September 20-22. More than four hundred peace groups and organization with peace and disarmament committees have been invited to participate.

Conference organizers, many of whom attended the first Ontario Peace Conference in Waterloo last fall, believe that discussion of a provincial structure is the top priority for the conference this year.

"The Ontario peace conference movement urgently needs some infrastructure," said Kerstin Petersson. "We need a mechanism for regular communication and a way of co-ordinating our efforts both on provincial issues like tritium and national issues like Star Wars."

It is expected that a full day of the conference will be devoted to this question and that a representative committee will be struck to develop a proposal for implementation at the next conference in 1986, International Peace year.

The agenda calls for a panel discussion with a cross-section of activists from across the province, who will be asked to address specific questions about producing a newsletter; selecting a coordinating committee; the role of an Ontario Peace Alliance and its relationship to the embryonic Canadian Peace Alliance.

Following the panel discussion, an extended plenary will focus on the same questions and choose the 1986 conference planning committee.

The second day will feature morning workshops on topics ranging from Star Wars to applying for funding. Other topics include labor and the peace movement; tritium; international campaigns; Ontario NWFZ; computer networking; popular education techniques; burnout; and dealing with the media.

Ontario activists will have the opportunity on Sunday affernoon to present resolutions concerning the Canadian Peace Alliance for adop tion and forwarding to its founding conference in November.

A debate on whether the Canadian peace movement should organize a "Canada out of NATO" campaign is planned for the Friday evening leading into the conference. Rooms will also be set aside for labor and women's caucuses, and large notice boards and display table space will be arranged.

Sometime on Saturday, Doug Mohr will arrive by bicycle, concluding his "Ride for Peace" from Vancouver. Organizers hope that Marion Dewar. the Mayor of Ottawa and a vocal supporter of the peace movement, will be at Carlton to greet Doug when he cycles in, flanked by local cyclists who will ride the last few miles with him.

Finally, on Saturday night there will be an informal social event, perhaps with musical entertainment. For more information contact Walker Jones, 8 Morris Street, Ottawa, Ont. KlS 4A7. Phone 613/230-9130.

Nanoose Campers Petition for Enquiry

BY NINA WESTAWAY NANOOSE, B.C. -- The Nanoose Peace Camp, forced to move from its original location, has stayed alive. North of Nanaimo, B.C., the campers, occupying three tipis and a truck, dispensed coffee and nuclear facts to visitors throughout the summer.

The Nanoose Conversion Campaign (NCC) has been lobbying actively to condemn the Tomahawk cruise missiles in their harbor and reject any renewal of the existing Nanoose agreement between Canada and the United States.

NCC hopes to see the base converted from military to peaceful uses which will be of economic benefit to the community. However, although conversion of military production has been studied a little, there are very few conversion studies of military bases. The group would be pleased if a university or college could design a research project on the subject.

The Conversion Campaign expects to present petitions in the House of Commons around the beginning of October. They are making September 30 the deadline for all petitions to be collected. The agreement for Nanoose is likely to be renegotiated sometime this fall before the formal end of the agreement on April 14, 1986. For copies of NCC petitions and literature, write to Nanoose Conversion Campaign, P.O. Box 1981, Parksville, B.C. Or you can phone (604) 753-2083.

Expo "Reclassifies" Religious Pavilion


VANCOUVER -- A flourishing ecumenical religious group here is taking a surprised group of Expo executives to court. Pacific Inter-faith Citizenship Association represents all the major world religions -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Ba'hai, Unitarians, and Zoroastrians. In the early planning stages of Expo, these faiths generally expected Pacific Interfaith to organize a religious pavilion emphasizing the common elements of the world's religions -- especially peace.

Vancouver residents began planning their displays. They would bring artifacts of the bombing from Hiroshima. They would show some of Gandhi's few personal belongings. And John Lennon's guitar, and ...

But no. Such visions are no longer in Expo's scheme of things. Several of the top executives managing Expo belong to the same religious tradition -- a Toronto evangelical group, Crossroads Christian Communications, Inc. Its messages are beamed across Canada in a program called "100 Huntley Street." Months ago, Expo's managers reclassified the religious pavilion from a "cultural" to a "corporate" category, and offered it to only one religious group, Crossroads.

According to Pacific Interfaith's lawyers, this administrative decision has violated the multi-cultural heritage of Canada, as guaranteed by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have brought suit against Expo, filing affidavits signed by Aziz Khaki (President of Interfaith) and Charles Paris (a former B.C. Human Rights Commissioner and Regional Director of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews) who claim to have sought unsuccessfully, on behalf of Pacific Interfaith, the opportunity to sponsor an Interfaith Pavilion. They now seek an injunction against Expo's 100 Huntley Street Pavilion, so that all the world's religions can be properly represented and a strong emphasis on world peace maintained.

A slide show has already been prepared as an outreach tool and the group hopes to have a videotape version available shortly.

Nuclear War and the Law


TORONTO -- Claude Thomson the president of the Canadian Bar association told an international law conference that nuclear weapons should be declared illegal and prohibited by an international agreement. Mr. Thomson delivered the keynote address at a conference on the Law of the World in West Berlin. He urged lawyers to take the lead in changing the present situation, and to begin by working to change public opinion. Previous legal conferences have established the illegality of genocide, and of chemical and bacteriological warfare. Mr. Thomson pointed out that nuclear weapons are even more inhuman and destructive than these.

Accordingly, on Sunday, July 28, a committee of the Canadian Bar Association met in Toronto to consider ways in which the organization should most responsibly deal with the nuclear issue. Besides lawyers, several experts on arms control and disarmament were present. Although the committee is not, in itself, empowered to make decisions for the Bar Association, it did decide upon certain recommendations which will no doubt be seriously considered by the larger organization.

In particular, the committee hopes that the Bar Association will host an international conference, perhaps in the fall of 1986, on the illegality of nuclear weapons. Such a gathering might be co-sponsored by other concerned associations, such as the International Law Association, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Group of 78.

The illegality of using nuclear weapons has never yet been declared authoritatively. However, the convening of a group of legal experts would, in itself, be an act significant in the establishment of law on this matter. Since there is no world government and hence no single authorized source of international law, the International Court of Justice must rely upon the expressed opinions of legal scholars when determining what is legal and what not. If, after ample deliberations, a high level conference should pass a resolution declaring the use of nuclear weapons illegal, this resolution would in itself be a source of binding law. Precedents already exist for such an effort, notably when a conference established the illegality of chemical weapons. If not entirely conclusive, it is at least one step in the construction of recognized international laws.

The chairman of the committee, Winnipeg lawyer David Matas, noted that if such a law conference is held, it will be an innovative move to take. No similar efforts have been made elsewhere. However, he expressed optimism and a conviction that it is a promising approach to take. Other lawyers wishing further information about his committee's work can contact Matas at 204/944-1831.

Peace Magazine September 1985

Peace Magazine September 1985, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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