Canada and weapons of mass destruction

From Academic Kids

Weapons of
mass destruction
By Type
Biological weapons
Chemical weapons
Nuclear weapons
Radiological weapons
By Country
China (PRC)
North Korea
South Africa
Taiwan (ROC)
United Kingdom
United States
Nuclear weaponry
Nuclear countries
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear strategy
Nuclear terrorism
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear weapon history
Nuclear weapon design
Nuclear explosion
Nuclear testing
See also
Dirty bomb
Radiological warfare
edit  (

Canada does not possess any weapons of mass destruction and has signed treaties repudiating possession of them. Canada ratified the Geneva Protocol in 1930.


Nuclear weapons

Canada has long been closely linked with the United States' nuclear weapons program. The Manhattan Project had help from Canadian scientists, and a good portion of the uranium used came from Canadian mines (other uranium sources included the American Southwest and the Belgian Congo). After the Second World War Canada became a world leader in nuclear research focused on the Chalk River test reactor. While Canada was focused on the peaceful use of nuclear technology, Canadian research was shared freely with the United States and played an important role in the continued development of American nuclear weapons.

With the launch of Sputnik and the new threat from Soviet missiles Canada decided to purchase the BOMARC defensive missile system. While Prime Minister John Diefenbaker agreed to buy the missiles, he balked at also taking the nuclear warheads that were needed to make the system useful. Accepting nuclear weapons into Canada became the central issue of the 1963 Canadian election, which saw Lester B. Pearson's Liberals, a party that had earlier opposed nuclear weapons, defeat the Diefenbaker government. On January 8, 1969, Canada ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

From the 1960s to 1984, there were American nuclear weapons in Canada. These were placed under dual-key rules whereby both Canadian and American authorities had to authorize a launch. Pierre Trudeau, Pearson's successor as prime minister, was opposed to these missiles, and in 1971, declared Canada a non-nuclear country. The missiles were moved out of Canada.

Nonetheless, the Canadian air force maintained a stockpile of AIR-2A Genie unguided nuclear air-to-air rockets as the primary wartime weapon on the CF-101 Voodoo fighters. These were only removed in 1984, when the F-18 Hornet started into squadron service and the Voodoo was no longer needed.

While it has no more permanently stationed nuclear weapons, Canada continues to allow nuclear-armed American planes and naval vessels to use Canadian facilities. There is, however, some local and popular objection to this federal policy. The port city of Vancouver is, by its own bylaws and signage, a "Nuclear Weapons Free Zone", although it is not clear if the American military vessels entering its harbour are free of such weapons, or how such a bylaw would be enforced. Canada also continues to remain under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) nuclear "umbrella", although the government has attempted to modify NATO policy, particularly during the period that Lloyd Axworthy was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Chemical weapons

During both the First World War and Second World War, Canada was an important producer and developer of chemical weapons for the Allied war effort. These were used in combat in World War I, but were not used in World War II. This left Canada with large stockpiles of chemical weapons. Soon after the war, Canada abandoned the use of chemical weapons, and had to devote a great deal of effort to safely destroying them. Canada ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention on September 26, 1995.

Biological weapons

Canada had a biological warfare research program in the early to middle part of the 20th century. Canadian research involved developing protections against biowarfare attacks and for offensive purposes, often with the help of the UK and the US. Canada has thus experimented with such things as weaponized anthrax, botulinum toxin, ricin, rinderpest virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, and tularemia. Canada claims to have destroyed all military stockpiles and to no longer conduct toxin warfare research. Canada ratified the Biological Weapons Convention on September 18, 1972.


Canada, with its strong belief in multilateralism, has long been a strong advocate of arms limitation treaties. Canada is a member of every international disarmament organization and is committed to pushing for an end to nuclear weapons testing, reduction in nuclear arsenals, a ban on all chemical and biological weapons, bans on the weaponization of outer space, and blocks on nuclear proliferation.

Canada maintains a division of its Foreign Affairs department devoted to pursuing these ends. It also dedicates significant resources in trying to verify that current treaties are being obeyed, passing much information on to the United Nations. In the 1970s, Canada discussed building a reconnaissance satellite to monitor adherence to such treaties, but these plans were shelved.

Canada continues to promote peaceful nuclear technology exemplified by the CANDU reactor. Unlike most designs, the CANDU does not require enriched fuel, and in theory is therefore much less likely to lead to the development of weaponized fissile fuel. For this reason, CANDU has been sold to countries where there is a threat of nuclear proliferation, on the basis that the construction of an enrichment facility would be noticed and clearly being used for weapons only. However, like many nuclear designs, CANDU can be used to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. CANDU reactors are designed to be refuelled while running, which makes plutonium production much easier.

Licensed CANDU reactors all run under scrutiny by United Nations observers, but there is some concern about possible diversion of plutonium. India, for example, owns two licensed CANDU reactors (which began operation in 1972), and has conducted a number of nuclear tests.

It is known that India used an early Canadian NRX-like research reactor (CIRUS) to obtain plutonium for a nuclear test, Operation Smiling Buddha, in 1974. As a result, the Canadian government refused to allow sale of nuclear materials and technology to India, permitting only safety-related information to be passed by way of the CANDU Owners' Group].

India has built a number of reactors, not under IAEA safeguards, that were derived from the CANDU design and are used for power generation. India also has a locally-designed reactor (Dhruva) intended for plutonium production. Plutonium for India's most recent nuclear tests, Operation Shakti, is thought to come from the Dhruva reactor.

Although international observers have concluded that no plutonium was diverted from the safeguarded CANDU reactors (see [1] (, the misconception that licensed CANDU reactors were used to produce the plutonium used in the recent Indian nuclear tests is still common.

Canada has volunteered to help destroy some of the leftover chemical weapons of the USSR. There is also talk of taking Soviet nuclear fuel and using it peacefully as fuel in CANDU reactors, but this is controversial.


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