Activists highlight Canada’s role on 75th anniversary of atomic bombings

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Activists highlight Canada’s role on 75th anniversary of atomic bombings
The ruins of Urakami Roman Catholic Cathedral after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Photo: Hidetsugu Aihara

Nuclear disarmament advocates, including a prominent Anglican voice, held an online event Aug. 6 to commemorate 75 years since the atomic bombings of Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to recognize Canada’s role in the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day Coalition, which has hosted a commemoration each year in Toronto since 1975, held the event online this year for the first time. The event featured two keynote speakers, along with music and documentary footage.

Atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Nakamura Thurlow gave the first keynote speech. Thurlow is a long-time advocate for nuclear disarmament, having inaugurated Toronto’s annual commemoration of the bombings. In 2017 she jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Beatrice Finn on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

In an appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Thurlow called on the prime minister to “acknowledge Canada’s critical role in the creation of nuclear weapons, express a statement of regret for the deaths and suffering they caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki” and to announce that Canada will ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Anglican peace activist and historian Phyllis Creighton delivered the second keynote. Creighton previously served as Anglican representative to Project Ploughshares, the peace research institute of the Canadian Council of Churches.

As a member of General Synod, Creighton led the push for the Anglican Church of Canada to declare in 1983 that nuclear weapons are “against the will of God and the mind of Christ.” In 2007, Project Ploughshares and the Anglican Church of Canada joined the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

In her keynote speech, Creighton outlined Canada’s role in the creation of atomic weapons, starting with the signing of the Quebec Agreement by the leaders of Canada, the United States and Britain for joint development of nuclear arms.

Creighton noted that much of the uranium ore used in the Manhattan Project came from the Canadian firm Eldorado Mining and Refining, which had a uranium mine on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. The company hired Dene hunters and trappers to carry 100-lb sacks of uranium concentrate on their backs over thousands of kilometres.

Neither Eldorado nor the Canadian government warned the Dene about the radium content of the uranium or the dangers of radiation poisoning, Creighton says. Their community of Délı̨nę was also left with 1.7 million tons of uranium waste dumped into Great Bear Lake, which caused many residents to develop cancer.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, she adds, Canada continued to promote the sale of nuclear reactors to other countries, hosted nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, helped form NORAD, joined NATO and became part of its nuclear planning team.

In January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight—the closest humanity has come to global destruction since the metaphorical clock made its debut in 1947.

“It is a disgrace that we are facing the threat of nuclear weapons 75 years later, and nuclear annihilation,” Creighton says. “The risks are higher now than they were even at the height of the Cold War.”

Media and information on the event are available at hiroshimadaycoalition.ca.

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Matt Gardner
Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the <em>Anglican Journal</em>. Most recently, Gardner worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Gardner has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the <em>Journal</em>.

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