Peace Movement | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Peace Movement

Canada has a long tradition of an active and vocal peace movement. The Mennonites and Quakers, guided by a philosophy of nonviolence, have consistently spoken out against war and militarism.

Peace Movement

Canada has a long tradition of an active and vocal peace movement. The Mennonites and Quakers, guided by a philosophy of nonviolence, have consistently spoken out against war and militarism. During the late 1950s and 1960s, concern over the dangers of atmospheric testing and the debate over the presence in Canada of nuclear weapons provided a focus for Canada's fledgling peace movement. In 1952, a Canadian chapter of the World Federalists was established, in response to a growing sense of frustration with Cold War tensions and the failure of the UNITED NATIONS to operate as had been envisaged. In 1957 the first PUGWASH Conference of scientists was held in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, and the Canadian Peace Research Institute was founded. The Canadian Peace Congress, which has close links to the Communist Party of Canada, was also active at this time.

It was also during these years that the VOICE OF WOMEN was established in Canada and began to hold an annual Mothers' Day Vigil. This was important, not only because it provided organized support for women who wished to challenge the assumptions of the day about military security and the role of women in society, but because it also laid the groundwork for a large section of the peace movement today who are seeking a broader definition of peace, as not just arms control but a complete restructuring of society and its priorities. Although far thinking, these groups were narrowly based, often labelled "left wing" and dismissed by a general public that continued to think of peace as a state of security resulting from the maintenance of military strength as a counter to Soviet bloc military forces.

By the late 1960s, the peace movement in Canada had coalesced around criticism of the VIETNAM WAR and a perceived failure on the part of Canada to distance itself from American policies. By comparison, and despite the fact that it was a period when there was a significant nuclear arms build-up by the USSR, the 1970s were relatively quiet. The atmosphere of detente had generated a certain amount of complacency. The turn of the decade witnessed growing tensions between the superpowers relating to such events as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Soviet deployments of new intermediate range nuclear missiles targetted on western Europe and NATO's decision to counter this with its "two-track" policy to deploy intermediate range missiles, unless the Soviet ones were withdrawn; and the imposition of martial law in Poland. The American Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) of early 1983 and the Soviet walk-out from arms control negotiations when NATO's intermediate range nuclear missile deployments began later in the same year further contributed to East-West tensions. These events created an alarming atmosphere for many and gave rise to a renewed peace movement in Canada and abroad.

The revitalized peace movement of the 1980s is a loose network of groups with different aims, philosophies and membership. The unifying factor is that all are deeply concerned by the threat to mankind posed by a spiralling arms race which consumes scarce resources and holds security hostage to ever increasing expenditures. The movement is more broadly based than ever before, including major urban coalitions such as the Toronto Disarmament Network, the Winnipeg Coordinating Committee on Disarmament, End the Arms Race in Vancouver, and religious groups such as PROJECT PLOUGHSHARES sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches, organizations of physicians, scientists, educators, lawyers, veterans, artists and athletes. A myriad of local peace groups are established across the country; their membership is both rural and urban and all age groups are represented, with women playing an ever-increasing role.

Many groups come under the umbrella of the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA). Founded in 1985, the CPA includes 350 individual and umbrella peace groups which represent 1500 other organizations with peace activities as their primary focus. The CPA has strong ties to organized labour and 20% of its members are Canadian Labour Congress affiliates.

One of the largest and most broadly based peace groups in Canada is Project Ploughshares, sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches. Established in 1976, it now has over 7500 individual associates from all the major churches throughout Canada. It focuses on 3 main areas: alternative security, ie, finding alternative approaches to defence policy and arms control and disarmament; militarism and underdevelopment, in particular military spending and the arms trade in the Third World and Canadian military production and exports policy. Ploughshares has also developed a national campaign of research, education and publication on the relationship of disarmament and development.

OPERATION DISMANTLE, founded in 1977, was particularly active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dismantle's main goal at that time was to gain support for a world referendum on disarmament. Today, with a membership of over 11 000, its main activities are lobbying, public education, co-ordinating campaigns and coalition building directed toward making Canada a nuclear weapons free zone.

In 1979 a group of Toronto physicians formed a chapter of Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, linking up with an international medical network which has become a powerful force. By 1987 there were 26 chapters of CPPNW with 4200 supporters, including 10% of Canadian physicians. The membership is drawn from across Canada and includes some nurses, physiotherapists and other health care professionals. CPPNW has vigorously publicized the severe medical consequences of even a limited nuclear exchange. Psychologists, who have also organized themselves, have warned that the fear of nuclear war is having a deleterious effect on many Canadian youth.

Scientists are another group of professionals who are examining more closely peace and security issues and, in particular, the relationship between science and society. Organizations such as Scientists for Peace focus on the arms race and the nuclear threat, while Pugwash and Student Pugwash look at a whole range of global issues from medical ethics and the environment to the arms race and Third World development. Veterans are another addition to the peace community. Veterans Against Nuclear Arms lobbies politicians and officials in the Departments of National Defence and FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE (formerly External Affairs). Lawyers for Social Responsibility reflects the growing concern among middle class professionals about peace and security. The organization encourages and supports legal research on peace, war and disarmament, presents papers with a legal perspective on these issues and provides legal advice to groups and individuals working for peace.

Educators are among the most active participants in the peace movement. One of the most important developments of the 1980s has been the introduction of peace or global education into Canadian schools. Teachers are increasingly pressing school boards to add peace studies and global issues to the curricula.

New research institutes are making an important contribution to the debate on peace and security. The Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (CIIPS) was created in June 1984 as a crown corporation. In order to ensure its independence, the level of financing and method of selection of the board of directors is set out in the Act. The purpose of the Institute is to increase knowledge and understanding of the issues related to international peace and security, from a Canadian perspective. It provides funding and information for groups wishing to promote a discussion of peace and security issues, as well as publishing its own research.

The Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, established in 1983, is an Ottawa-based, private, nonprofit organization which is also doing extensive policy-related research on peace and security issues and disseminates this through an education and information programme. Although it covers all aspects of arms control diplomacy, the Centre tends to focus on issues where Canada is directly involved and where Canadian policy can have a direct impact on the international arms control process.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has also played a role in encouraging the discussion of peace and security issues. The consultative group brings together, annually, approximately 50 Canadians to discuss peace and security issues under the chairmanship of the Ambassador for Disarmament. The Disarmament Fund has also been an important source of funding for groups or individuals engaged in balanced discussions, research, dissemination of information or publishing of material on the subject of arms control and disarmament.

The activities of the peace groups in Canada have undoubtedly helped to mold public opinion. Polls have shown a marked distrust of the superpowers by Canadians and a perception that the risk of nuclear war has increased in recent years. Many Canadians want their government to take a more active role in disarmament, but they are ambivalent about where Canada's duty, in the interests of security, lies. There is a great deal of discussion about alternative security, the need for international co-operation, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, but in the interim most of the groups have yet to come to terms with balancing the pressing need of disarmament with Canada's legitimate security needs.

Further Reading

External Links