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Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: a 30-Year Retrospective of Science for Peace

This is a mere summary meant to celebrate our history, a selection of some representative activities of Science for Peace on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. Many of the contributions appear prescient. They also suggest a fascinating historical perspective about what was known long before a number of threats and their fateful repercussions became apparent to many people. This summary highlights the important functions and shortcomings of education, giving pause to think about where to go from here in these urgent, critical times. It brings to mind Edward Said’s depiction of the Public Intellectual, the free-thinking critics and analysts who are essential to democracy and perhaps to human survival. Since this is an abbreviated distillation of a great deal of work, we invite SfP members to contribute their accounts of other important projects and discussions.

1981 — An agenda was outlined of sixteen peace topics, among them a chemical warfare study group, seismology for nuclear test ban verification, cruise missile conversion. symposia on war or peace in space, the conversion of the military economy.

1982 — SfP advised the Toronto District School Board on teaching about the perils of nuclear war. Despite considerable support from the Chairman of the Board and plans for broad outreach, the program was not implemented.

1983 — A focus was the interrelation between development and disarmament. “While involved in development programs, Canada at the same time remains one of the world’s leading arms traders.” Another focus was building a consensus among professionals for dealing with the growing destruction of the biosphere and its impact on human health. A significant focus was on education: There were a number of SfP chapters in other cities and universities “to conduct and encourage educational and research activities relating to the dangers of war waged with weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons”. There was a weekly seminar series in Toronto and a plan to develop a speakers bureau, an education package, and a focus on Jobs with Peace for its main activity during UN Disarmament Week.

1984 — Science for Peace responded to Prime Minister Trudeau’s Peace Initiative with a detailed proposal including a government supported Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, and personal contacts (and twinning) with people in the USSR and countries. The president of SfP and other initiating members were invited to meet with Trudeau.

1986 — Message to Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:

The initiatives taken by your government to stop and reverse the arms race and particularly to prevent the development of new weapons have raised the hopes of humanity. The negotiation of a comprehensive test ban preceded by the withholding of further tests and accompanied by a willingness to consider new approa­ches to verification represents, in the view of the undersigned, the key to reversing the drift to disaster that threatens us all. We hope that pending a considered response by the Western democracies, you will not be provoked to change your course by the refusal so far by the United States to resume negotia­tions for a comprehensive test ban, which is essential to end the arms race. — George Ignatieff, John Polanyi, Anatol Rapoport

1987 — The president of SfP was George Ignatieff, former Ambassador to the UN, actively united peace education and government consultation regarding disarmament and making the UN more effective. SfP also focused on the militarization of outer space and on the military threats to Arctic peoples and environment. There was sharp criticism of corrupting use of scientific knowledge as the basis of “high tech” weapons industry and military systems. Consideration was given to establishing a network of Education Directors in local chapters and of sponsoring round tables at many universities. .

1988 — Hopes and prospects for peace in the Balkans. Nuclear weapons and human rights: the second anniversary of the kidnapping of the Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu. International Conference on Arctic Cooperation involving the need for native people to be represented; the broad subthemes, e.g. sovereignty, ecology, navigation, and surveillance, creating a transnational Arctic nuclear-weapons-free-zone, and environmental and social impact assessment procedures”

1989 — A proposal for an Oath for Scientists, acknowledging that in the absence of ethical standards, science and its products can damage society..

1991 — Non-partisan teach-in entitled “War in the Gulf: the university reflects.” With other academic institutions, SfP helps develop The Toronto Resolution, a code of ethics on academic freedom.

1993 — Focus on the International Day of Action for the Innu and the Earth. SfP joins with other citizens’ groups seeking a World Court advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons.

1994 — Statement on the role of Canada to enhance security and global stability by assisting in non-violent resolution of conflicts and addressing the causes of conflicts before they occur as opposed to maintain and develop combat forces for territorial defence. Active working groups on ethical considerations in science and scholarship, UN reform, the ozone layer and global climate, and scientific cooperation with Cuba. SfP shifts its interest from the narrower arms control focus that it had in the 1980s to broader concerns: peace includes justice and the environment (from Derek Paul).

1995 — Members of SfP met with the Biological and Chemical Defence Review Committee (BCDRC) concerning possible Canadian testing of chemical agents on humans, on having stocks of tons of chemical weapons, ocean dumping of chemical agents, and overall government secrecy.

Assessing the aftermath of the Cold War:

“The world is in continual expanding crisis, ranging from the destruction of fish stocks (with the threat of species-extinction), to latter-day holocaust in Central Africa, to the threat of massive environmental degradation and social strife in China…Governments command vastly greater resources, both human (in particular, the military) and financial, than NGOs, but the latter seem to offer the better hope of dealing with these complex problems…” (Eric Fawcett). “Further understanding the depth and complexity of these threats led to seeing the role of people in the humanities, social sciences, natural and engineering sciences, governance, industry and trade, people in education…” (Anatol Rapoport).

1997The Lessons of Yugoslavia conference.

1999 — SfP addresses the Indonesian repression after the East Timor referendum, the anti-globalization protest against the WTO in Seattle, the US refusal to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and issues a statement about the NATO-Serbian war.

2002 — The funding from American military agencies of Canadian university laboratories and projects. How Canada should respond to terrorism and war.

2004 — Torture at Abu Ghraib. Revisiting the racism of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Crisis in Haiti.

2005 — SfP looks with more depth at the funding of large research departments at universities, the conflict between academic freedom and the highest standards of research vs. meeting industry interest.

2006 — Launching of the Global Issues Project with a roundtable on forestry, followed by roundtables on food and population, climate change and energy, land use planning, water, militarism, social justice, sustainable cities.

2009Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Forum. Open Letter on Climate Change to the Government of Canada, signed by over 550 Canadian university faculty members. The letter pointed out that the time frame of reductions is critical and should be dictated by earth’s physical environment and not by political or short-term economic considerations.

2010Climate Reality: James Hansen, Naomi Klein and Clayton Thomas-Muller, SfP members research the corporatization of the university, the decline in education and compromises in academic integrity.

2011State-Corporate Complex: A Threat to Freedom and Survival with Noam Chomsky and Linda McQuaig. Another urgent letter to Members of Parliament demanding urgent action on climate change.


This selection is indicative of the broad range of issues researched and written about by SfP members.


United Nations Reform: Looking Ahead after Fifty Years (1995) Arctic Alternatives: Civility or Militarism in the Circumpolar North (1992) Accidental Nuclear War (1984)

Background papers:

on Nuclear Weapons, Ecological Refugees, Genetically Modified Plants used for Food, the Alberta Tar Sands.

Bulletin Articles and Occasional Papers:

David Parnas (1993): The North American Free Trade Agreement Irwin Guttman (1993): NAFTA and the Militarization of Canada Lee Lorch (1994): Working Group on Cooperation with Cuban Science Margaret Back (1996): The Mines Action Coalition Paul Hamel (2000): Genetically Modified Food: A Field of Dreams? Hani Kim (2002): Military Research and Canadian Universities John Valleau (2002): Organizing a Campaign Against Space Weapons Hanna Newcombe (2005): Rational Scheme for a Reformed UN Security Council Paul Hamel (2006): Structural Violence Derek Paul (2006): Roundtable on Forests Nick Dyer-Witheford (2007): Military Related Research at the University of Western Ontario Derek Paul (2008): Brief to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology Adele Buckley (2010): Arctic Governance Phyllis Creighton (2010): An Arctic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone: Why is now the time? H. Patricia Hynes (2011): The Silent Casualty of War: The Global Environment

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