Churches demand Canada join treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – The Canadian Council of Churches has again called on Canada to sign and ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the treaty became officially part of international law on Jan. 22.

“Nuclear weapons are evil and they present a unique, existential threat to humanity,” CCC Justice and Peace Commission chair Sr. Donna Geernaert wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.

But Global Affairs Canada isn’t biting.

“Substantive progress on non-proliferation and disarmament can only come via initiatives that engage all states, including those which possess nuclear weapons,” Global Affairs spokesperson Grantly Franklin said in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Ever since groups began organizing and pushing for the new nuclear weapons’ treaty in 2010, Canada has stood with the 29 other NATO member states in refusing to engage in treaty negotiations, to vote on the treaty or to acknowledge it has now been ratified by 52 UN member states, surpassing the 50 states necessary to bring it into force under international law. The Vatican signed and ratified the treaty as soon as it was opened for signatures Sept. 20, 2017.

NATO policy retains a right of first use of nuclear weapons to defend against possible attack by an enemy. Current policy also envisions the possibility of a limited, strategic nuclear exchange. The NATO director of nuclear policy has stated that “NATO will remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist.”

All 26 member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches urged Ottawa to sign and ratify the treaty in 2018, a few months after it passed in a 122-to-one vote at the UN. This time the churches are hoping the lessons of the COVID pandemic might persuade the government to think globally and act on the treaty, Geernaert said.

Whether it’s health, the environment or the threat of war, the COVID crisis demonstrates how any global challenge must be confronted with a decisive and co-ordinated response, she said.

If only one per cent of the world’s 13,400 nuclear weapons were to be used, they would likely kill millions in the immediate blast, but the effects would wash over the entire globe, causing nuclear winter, famine and the death of billions.

“There’s no way that could be restrained,” Geernaert said. “We saw with Chernobyl that it goes across the globe. That’s what COVID has done — we’re all connected.”

Geernaert believes Pope Francis has summed up common sense on nuclear weapons.

“According to Pope Francis, and I think he’s right, if you’ve got them there’s always the possibility you’re going to use them,” she said.

While the churches demand signing and ratification of the nuclear treaty, a coalition of 110 peace, faith, women’s and environmental groups is asking Parliament to take some intermediate steps to inch Canada toward joining the treaty. In an appeal to legislators, the coalition has asked for public hearings into the treaty before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Global Affairs claims “Canada has long been an important player in global nuclear disarmament and remains committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.”

By keeping communications open with NATO and “all stakeholders,” Canada can play a role in reducing the threat of nuclear war, said Franklin.

“Canada will continue to act as a bridge-builder, working to unite states in taking concrete steps towards a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.