CANADA'S DANGEROUS FORAY INTO NUKES
The Bomarc missile was our dirty little secret
During the 1960s and ’70s, the prosperous bedroom community north of Montreal where I lived a carefree childhood had a dirty little secret.
One that, thankfully, never came to haunt me.
Fifty-five years ago — on Dec. 31, 1963 — the Liberal government of Lester Pearson formally acquired American-controlled nuclear weapons for use by the Canadian military.
Among the RCAF Squadrons stood up specifically for this purpose was RCAF 447 Surface to Air (SAM) Squadron at Lamacaza near Mont Tremblant, a mere hour and change drive from my childhood home.
This and its sister squadron, 446 SAM at North Bay, Ont., combined housed 56 Canadian Bomarc missiles — each carrying a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead maintained, armed and jealously guarded by in-house American servicemen.
Their mission, in layman terms, was to get the Bomarc warhead to detonate in the air close enough to the incoming Soviet bombers so as to destroy, avert or at least delay their further progress on their targets.
But the Canadian and American officers and NCOS who guarded, serviced and stood by ready to launch these U.S manufactured and nuclear-tipped Canadian Bomarcs were by no means alone. RCAF and Army bases, across Canada and into Europe, served as multi-faceted purveyors of U.S. nuclear weapons.
The Bomarcs’ Canadian “delivery-boy” systems for these American nuclear weapons included RCAF Voodoo and Starfighter squadrons in the air and MGR-1 Honest John Tactical Nuclear weapons manned by the Royal Canadian Artillery.
However, a most delectably frightening scenario for Liberal-led Canada in the 1960s and ’70s would have been the fact that, had the Avro Arrow proceeded to full production, it could well have become the single most accurate allied fighter interceptor for the delivery of nuclear missiles against Soviet bombers. Imagine that.
Though actual delivery systems were to change and consolidate over time, the Canadian Armed Forces continued to use tactical nuclear weapons until 1984, which, ironically, happened to be the same year Pierre Trudeau finally left office. To put it another way, only when Conservative Brian Mulroney took office did the Canadian Armed Forces officially become “nuke-free” again.
Upon reflection, our government and military’s shrewdly dual-minded, 20-year in-house nuclear affair with the U.S. had all the classic hallmarks of Liberal defence: Dilly-dallying that symbolized the dawn of this country’s slow decline into quasi-colonial U.S. defence dependency.
Politically, I must admit that Liberal governments of the ’60s and ’70s were shrewd!
Knowing that full membership in the “nuclear club” would alienate and anger much of their base, the Pearson-trudeau political dynasty opted instead for carrier status, officially leaving ultimate responsibility for the detonation of Canadian-carried nuclear weapons to the appropriate U.S. authority.
Of course, for what it was worth, nuclear release of Canadian-carried U.S. nuclear warheads had to be concurred by Canada, as well. But just how serious would a possible Pearson/trudeau government “No” have been?
If the U.S. chose to act alone, over Canada, against the Soviets would we have had the chutzpah to stand up to both?
So by default, the true genius of Liberal government’s nuclear “affair” with the U.S. was that, depending on the perceived outcome, the Canadian government could politically associate, or disassociate itself from the fallout (politically and radioactively) of any Canadian military purveyance of U.S. nuclear tipped warheads over Canada.
As much as it suited us, we could say that we were an active part of it. Likewise, as much as it suited us, we could say that it was ultimately not our fault.
Meanwhile, what might have become of any Canadian inhabitants or territory directly underneath the nuclear exchange was to be the problem of the Canadian Militia, which, incidentally, was brought kicking and screaming into the civil defence and evacuation business.
Thankfully, all the arrangements that generated the Canadian in-house affair with U.S. nuclear weapons are long over. Dare instead to imagine a “Donald Trump” nuclear head attached to an outdated Justin Trudeau “shaft” fighting for Canada and you can rest assured that the end of the world as we know it has arrived!