Canada must take a “strong, principled stand against the continued possession of nuclear weapons by any state,” Archbishop Michael Peers told a House of Commons committee.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and six other Canadian church leaders appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on Feb. 26 and called on Canada to take the lead in ridding the world of the “scourge” of nuclear weapons.
“We believe that obedience to the call of God requires us now to raise our voices in an urgent appeal for a nuclear weapons ban,” said Archbishop Peers. He also told the committee, which is studying Canada’s nuclear policy, that the government’s voice should be added to the call to immediately begin negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention.
The delegation’s presentation on behalf of the 19 different Christian denominations represented by the Canadian Council of Churches was based on a letter sent a week earlier to Prime Minister Chretien. In it, the church leaders said the abolition of nuclear weapons is “one of the most profound virtual challenges of our era.”
They also asked for a meeting with Mr. Chretien “to explore ways in which Canadian churches can further support the government in taking bold new steps to make nuclear weapons abolition an urgent priority.”
Canada was praised by the church leaders for taking the lead in efforts to eliminate anti-personnel landmines, but Mr. Chretien was challenged to “bring that same visionary dedication to bear upon efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
Archbishop Peers told the committee the church communities “rejoiced with all Canadians” when Canada, last summer, became the first country to ratify the treaty. “It was truly a milestone event, showing the world what can be achieved when government and citizen movements work together and, particularly, when leaders step forward to challenge and encourage others.”
In introducing the delegation, Janet Somerville, general secretary of the council, said the subject was one that “burns in our hearts.” She added: “It is the hope and the longing that, in our lifetime, the last nuclear weapon will be disabled and dismantled, and the human family will reject as unthinkable the nuclear option.”
Several committee members praised the church leaders for their presentation, with New Democrat MP Svend Robinson stating that his party fully supports their objectives.
Others in the church delegation were: Bishop Telmor Sartison, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; Very Rev. Bruce McLeod, former moderator of the United Church; Ernie Regehr of the ecumenical disarmament group, Project Ploughshares; Joe Gunn, of the Roman Catholic bishops’ social affairs office; and Gerald Baril, assistant general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Art Babych is a freelance writer and Parliament Hill correspondent for the Canadian Catholic News in Ottawa.