Nanoose Conversion Campaign Heats Up

By Goldberg, Kim | Canadian Dimension, July-August 1996 | Go to article overview

Nanoose Conversion Campaign Heats Up


Goldberg, Kim, Canadian Dimension


For 30 years the US Navy has brought its nuclear powered submarines to Nanoose Bay on Van couver Island to test undersea weapons. Since 1984 a local peace group has worked unflaggingly to alert the public to the dangers of these visits (radioactive primary coolant was discharged directly into the harbour from 1966-1972), with a view to cancelling the Canada-US agreement covering the Nanoose base so it can be converted to peaceful, productive uses.

Yet despite the longevity and single-minded dedication of the Nanoose Conversion Campaign, the US Navy's nuclear presence at Nanoose has never ignited nationwide protests as the cruise missile testing over Alberta did in the 1980's. Nor has Nanoose caused an international public outcry as the NATO overflights of the Innu territory in Labrador have. All are classic examples of Canadian subservience to US military imperialism. But until very recently, the Navy's escapades at Nanoose have received scant media coverage or public criticism beyond Vancouver Island, even though Nanoose is now the only foreign port in the entire world where US nuclear warships routinely conduct military operations.

The tide of public awareness finally started to turn last spring when Nanoose made national news not once but twice, and just two months before the Nanoose agreement came up for renewal. In April, CTV's Dale Goldhawk did a hard-hitting report on the 1994 sinking of a BC man's yacht off Victoria by a Chilean submarine that was returning home from Nanoose. Two weeks later, BC Premier Glen Clark splashed down with a preelection get-tough ultimatum that did more to muddy the waters than rid them of nuclear warships, but it did put Nanoose into national headlines. Clark urged Ottawa to cancel the Nanoose agreement if the US wouldn't comply with the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

By using Nanoose as a bargaining chip, Clark signalled that turfing US nuke ships out of BC waters is an expendable goal for his government. This files in the face of BC NDP policy passed six years earlier at the party's 1990 convention in which the party pledged to make BC a nuclear free zone and to "work to prevent the next renewal of the Nanoose Agreement. …

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