Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range, Nanoose Bay, BC, CANADA


Theresa Wolfwood,
Barnard- Boecker Centre Foundation, Victoria, BC   Tel: 1 250 595-7519      


I would like to acknowledge and thank the Musqueam people for privilege of being on their land. They are no strangers to military dominance; the means by which the European invaders established their bases and colonies here. Welcome to Vancouver – a nuclear-free zone. Welcome to Canada where we recruit child soldiers. Welcome to this place, my alma mater. In my time on this then beautiful campus there was not a single corporate logo visible. The corporate strip malls here have the same logos as those on US bases in Iraq. This is no coincidence. It is directly related to why we gather here today. Welcome to occupied territory- mentally and physically.

“This is not paradise
dear Adam    dear Eve
but a rung on the ladder
to a possible
breathtaking landscape.”

These words by the great Canadian poet and peace activist, Dorothy Livesay, describe this beautiful part of the world we live in, including Nanoose Bay, the location of CFMETR.

Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range, CFMETR, on Nanoose Bay, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, less than 100 km from Vancouver, is the location, not only of maritime weapons tests by the USA, but also it is also the destination for many nuclear-powered and nuclear-weapons capable ships of the USA military.

Since the agreement between Canada & the USA was signed in 1965, the base has actually been used almost exclusively as a USA base. Canada tests nothing at CFMETR. Canadian taxpayers now pay $10 million for the maintenance of this facility; essentially we are glorified caretakers and housekeepers; roles that no society respects, least of all the USA. It makes Canada look like the military version of Latin American domestic workers within the USA. This base is Canadian in name only – like much of this country.

Canada has a long history of welcoming foreign military use of Canadian bases. The Cruise missile was tested at an Alberta base, chemical & biological weapons were tested in Alberta & New Brunswick by USA, UK, Australia.

NATO members test low level flights over Labrador and now we rent out our military facilities freely to any friend who can pay. USA nuclear missiles were placed in Canadian bases during the 1960’s and were only removed because they were obsolete. So, YES, we have foreign bases in everything but name, not unlike the Philippines; colleagues from there have told us about the use of their country under the Visiting Forces Agreement. Here it is all cloaked as our obligations under NATO and NORAD.

This is all part of Canada’s long and complex military collaboration with USA domination – it also includes the production of the uranium used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Canada continues to be the world’s leading producer–exporter of uranium.

When BC had a social democrat government in the 1990s there was much public and party pressure for it to assert its constitutional provincial authority over the land, waters and seabed that CFMETR uses. At one time it agreed to continue to lease the territory to the Federal government if the USA navy would not bring nuclear weapons into BC.

Norm Abbey, a local activist wrote that, “The Pentagon, however, quickly reminded Canadian Fisheries Minister David Anderson and Defence Minister Art Eggleton that the U.S. Navy will “neither confirm nor deny” nuclear weapons on board their ships, and no one tells them what to do – even when they’re operating in Canada.” That is a reminder for us to remember who is boss on this planet – just in case we have any illusions!

The then B.C. Premier, Glen Clark, upheld B.C.’s Nuclear–Weapons–Free legislation (passed by a vote of 51 to 1 in 1992), Anderson and Eggleton overturned the signed agreement. The B.C. legislature also voted for a full public and independent review of the environmental impacts at Nanoose. The federal government did not respond and until a limited and flawed process was convened in 1999, the public has been left out of any consultation. Ottawa launched the first hostile expropriation of provincial territory in Canadian history. The USA continued to visit and use the base with submarines that are designed to, and presumably do, carry nuclear warheads and some that use nuclear power and carry as much nuclear material as a bomb.

The agreement lets the USA do its dangerous and dirty work of testing weapons with a vast network of metallic devices laid out on the ocean floor in an area with limited water movement, in an area which is in part is First Nations land, an beautiful residential and recreational resource and home of a rich marine life. 30 years of torpedo testing has deposited 93,000 kilometres of copper wire and tons of toxic metals and materials on the sea bed at Nanoose. The USA military is exempt from any environmental responsibility by Canadian law.

The Nanoose First Nation lived for centuries on the site now occupied by CFMETR. “Naturally it (the expropriation) bothers us,” said Nanoose chief Wilson Bob. “We were at the table with them and they didn’t inform us about anything… it concerns us because we’re just across the bay.” The Nanoose First Nation, which in 1996 concluded stage three of a five–stage land claim negotiation, has not been consulted.

The ten year agreement is regularly renewed without public input. The standard mantra of the Canadian government is that Nanoose is vital to national security and that CFMETR is a vital part of Canada’s North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) commitment. In response to public pressure, threatened legal action and growing awareness in Canada of our complicity in USA military policy and aggression, the Federal Government appointed a retired judge as a “hearing officer” to convene the first public hearings on the subject of the expropriation of the territory in 1999. This author was one of the presenters to this hearing.

This was not, however, the first time local residents have been public in their opposition to this base. In the last thirty years there have been many citizen initiatives to inform the public of the environmental risks, the nuclear dangers (we have no nuclear disaster response plans), the expense and waste of resources and probably, most significant in today’s political climate where an increasing isolated USA is being supported by the Canadian right wing minority government of Stephen Harper who openly advocates closer economic and military ties with the USA; a clear message to the world that Canada is a willing partner of the USA’s policy of “Full Spectrum Dominance.”

For many years local organizations conducted educational meetings, consultations with residents and businesses, rallies on land and sea, and walks to the base. In 1986 a public forum, the ‘People’s Inquiry into the Implications of Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range (CFMETR)’, was convened in Nanaimo. Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Bishop Remi de Roo, Mel Hurtig, General Leonard Johnson, and I formed the panel. A published report summarized the many aspects covered by medical, labour, political and environmental experts as well as committed peace activists and citizens.

In 1999 Stacy Chappel of the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group and I were among the dozens of groups and citizens who made carefully researched presentations at the public hearing. We questioned the military, political, economic and environmental implications of this base. Our presentation said, in part:

War. What is it good for? It’s good for business.” Billy Bragg.

…Whose interests are served if the federal government of Canada expropriates the Nanoose testing range and hands it to the US with a multi-year lease?

The citizens of BC do not benefit—not democratically, not ecologically, and not economically. The exemption of USA military from the rule of law, the choice to ignore BC’s Nuclear Weapon Free status, and the heavy influence of corporate military interests over our government, show that the public interest and democracy are not served by furthering USA use of Canadian territory for their military testing.

Environmentally, no argument can be made on CFMETR’s behalf. The Canadian Department of National Defence’s own study in 1995 showed that the sea bed at Nanoose Bay has had “93,000 kilometres of copper wire, and tons of lead, lithium batteries, smoke flares, sonobuoy entrails and other toxic materials” dumped on it by the US Navy’s activities. Dr. Jack Ruitenbeek of the University of Victoria has conducted a standard cost benefit analysis of CFMETR that showed a net loss of $8,000,000 annually to the Canadian taxpayer.

What about some profits – rarely observed—the profits made in the sex trade? Our city leaders in Victoria loudly proclaim their love for the tourist dollar spent during visits of US Navy ships to Victoria en route to Nanoose. Indeed, many legitimate businesses do profit from these visits. However, there remains a silence on the effects of increased prostitution on our community. The increase in the sex trade business is no secret to anyone who has been downtown Victoria on an evening during Naval visits.

An interesting comparison could be made to Subic Bay, on the island of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Subic Bay was the site of a USA Naval base and testing range. The USA Naval presence was the undeniable cause, and sustenance, of a huge prostitution industry. Anyone who has visited there will tell you that there is not much left to that community except the sex trade now that the US Naval base has closed. What was that base adding to the local economy?

So, what are the benefits of expropriating Nanoose for continued testing by the US Navy? Whose interests are being served? Only the interests of those who benefit when public democratic power is decreased. Only the interests of those who benefit from decreased public control of military activities—including the activities of foreign militaries on Canadian territory. Only the interests of those who benefit when environmental protection is eliminated. Only those whose interests are served by a dramatically increased market for prostitution. In short, those who benefit include no one who has to live with the safety, environmental, health and economic risks posed by the continuing operation of this base.”

Later in 1999, Dr. Bertell came to Victoria to speak. Quoting from my own report of her speech:

Her talk coincided with the public hearings on objections to the Federal Government’s expropriation of the BC Provincially-owned sea bed in Nanoose Bay. …She told the audience that many objections at the public hearing focused on the danger of a nuclear accident in the Georgia Straits. USA nuclear-powered vessels, probably nuclear-armed (it is USA policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships) visit the Esquimalt navy base near Victoria and make frequent stays at Nanoose Bay to test their weapon systems. Dr. Bertell warned that we have no viable emergency preparedness for a nuclear accident and that, judging from the lack of international response to the Chernobyl disaster, “we would get neither help nor sympathy” in case of an accident. She said that test missiles contain depleted uranium as it most closely simulates the properties of nuclear warheads. The MX missile tested in the South Pacific and the Cruise missile tested in Canada in the ’80s both carried depleted uranium. So-called conventional weapons used in Yugoslavia and Iraq (and later in Afghanistan: author’s note) by USA and UK forces also contain depleted uranium.”

In the end the hearing officer’s report was not only a repetition of the mantra, or broken record to be more precise, about “national interests” & “security” but it was in large part composed of personal comments about the presenters and their various levels of activism and their supposed danger to society.

Important as this individual base is to citizens concerned about its environmental dangers, the loss of sovereignty of territory, the abhorrence of its military purpose, and the waste of human and natural resources, it is even more important to site Nanoose Bay within the global context of our gathering today. The real reason there are USA bases in other countries is not the freedom to pollute, the convenience of location and the access to cheap labour or even the convenient subservience of states with complicit governments. In El Salvador where I was an international election observer in March, 2006, USA troops roam freely around the countryside. They have a base in Comalapa –supposed for the war on drugs &/or terrorism. They are a constant reminder of the power of the USA, its military involvement in the massive repression of the 1980’s and a reminder that Salvadorians in the USA are vulnerable to expulsion at any time if they don’t support the USA, including with troops in Iraq.

Canada is probably the main source of DU, so-called “depleted uranium”, the radioactive non-fissionable isotope of uranium concentrated as a by-product of the enrichment of fissionable uranium for bombs and reactors. Weapons with DU hardened steel have been tested in Canada and were used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yugoslavia. When the small particles of DU are released in the atmosphere by explosion & impact, they spread in the atmosphere and lodge in the cells of all life forms. I saw babies in Iraq with hideous birth deformities and cancers, witness to the toxic power of this substance which is in the arsenal of weapons stocked by many nations.

The objective is to make it clear that the world superpower has not stopped preparing for and waging war since it was established. The real purpose of constant war readiness is to ensure that there are no frontiers, on land or sea, in institutions or structures, in information or technology, in resources or treasures of humans or nature, or in the minds of vassals or its own citizens that cannot and will not be controlled, enclosed and conquered – the ultimate privatization, subjection and commodification of the global commons is the goal of every base, every military action, every bite or wound inflicted by the USA on this earth.

The human spirit is still free in many places, including here, on the edge of the Pacific. Humanity committed to life and peace is only real force that can reclaim the commons. Shared understanding, analysis, strategy and action by millions of us can and will make a lie of full spectrum dominance. We know in whose interest this is; we know that peace and life will not come from dominance. Our determination to resist evil and to create good will grow can never be destroyed.

Resistance continues. As governments know, activists do not always have the resources or energy to continue beating on closed and guarded gates for decades; yet we persevere in our dream of making CFMETR a peaceful, educational & public facility. However in recent year, resistance has deepened and we see Nanoose Bay as part of a larger system of military dominance which the peace movement is confronting on many levels.

We can see Nanoose Bay from the highway and see the USA ships in port. However, the Canadian Arctic is vast and large with a small population of Inuit people. There, many military manoeuvres, tests, research and exercises can be hidden from public view. Work related to atmospheric and space control is conducted unobserved in our north; Canadian universities also hide militarism in research and installations related eventually to the USA’s ballistic missile defence program.

We will persist in believing that peace is not only possible, it is vital to the continuity of life. We are concerned that in the present dangerous global reality, Canada is increasingly more tarnished and implicated in its military role of servitude to USA interests, not just at home, but also in Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently USA soldiers joined Canadian military in an exercise in urban warfare on the streets of Winnipeg.

Our bases may not officially be recognized as “foreign bases” but they exist for the convenience & use of our powerful neighbour; bases that, like much of this country, are Canadian in name only. Canada has a branch plant economy, a branch plant culture and a branch plant military. Our compliance ensures our comfort – and our vulnerability.

Peace and social activists still hope and work; it is our dream that the support and inspiration of global networks like NOUSBASES and the growing peace and democracy movements worldwide will help end all forms of domination; we hope that as part of this solidarity Nanoose Bay will be returned to the First Nations people and local residents as well as to the abundant sea life of our beautiful region. We will not stop working for peace.

I would like to close with the wise and inspiring words of Rosalie Bertell:

The continuity of life, the call for making things better for the next and the next generations blots out all hesitation…We have to be part of something larger than ourselves, because our dreams are often bigger than our lifetimes.”

Artwork: from leaflet of People’s Enquiry, 1986
Artwork: from leaflet of People’s Enquiry, 1986

Abbey, Norm. “Just Say No to Nukes.” British Columbia Environmental Report. Vol. 10 #2. (Summer, 1999).
Bertell, Rosalie. Planet Earth: the latest weapon of war. Black Rose, 2000. Canada
Begich, Nick. & Jeanne Manning. ANGELS DON’T PLAY THIS HAARP. Earthpulse Press, Alaska, USA.
Blum, William. ROGUE STATE: A Guide to the World’s only Superpower. Common Courage Press, USA
.British Columbia Hansard. Vol. 2 #9. (Victoria, BC.: Queen’s Printer April 23, 1992.)
Engels, Mary-Louise. ROSALIE BERTELL: Scientist, Eco-Feminist, Visionary, 2005. Women’s Press, Women Who Rock series, Toronto, CANADA
Livesay, Dorothy, THE SELF-COMPLETING TREE. 1986. Press Porcepic, Toronto (excerpt from Bellhouse Bay)
Presentation to the Public Hearing on Nanoose Bay Expropriation on behalf of the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG)and the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation (BBCF). Co-written & presented by Stacy Chappel (VIPIRG) and Theresa Wolfwood (BBCF) July 26, 1999 Nanaimo, British Columbia. articles/nanoose_presentation.pdf
Wikopedia, the free encyclopedia
Wolfwood, Theresa. Rosalie Bertell speaks out:

The Security Guard

A tall, sandy, young man
he loped over to us, friendly
like a golden retriever, came
to greet us at the slick chain hotel.
He knew we’d come for the hearing.
– I’m security to keep the peace,
not just for the judge, but you too,
worked ten years
a policeman
on the streets of Vancouver.
I saw things I don’t want
to remember.
I hate violence.
I hope this hearing will be peaceful –

he turned to leave
– time to go in and get set up –
– Don’t tell them I said it
but give them Hell,
I get the creeps just thinking
about those nukes out there.

We left the sun and walked
into our shadows
to assemble
in the gloom of judgement,
a dusty, sunless room,
the “hearing officer”
a judge
with a mind empty of metaphor
crammed with legal minutiae
his words were sharp silica,
erosion against our passion.

For him even our logic was
too remote,
our love of light, of life,
to the legislation.
Assaulted by his
letters of the law,
we spoke and left.
We breathed again
in the sun outside
said goodbye to

our peaceful guard
Indifferent to our haste,
he talked
– once
I knew a Japanese woman
in Vancouver,
she had really
unusual tattoos,
one day
I asked her about them –

His words blew past me
as I tried to get away
going home.
– she told me:

these are
not tattoos
the pattern
of the
I was
the day
the bomb

Written after attending the Nanoose Bay Expropriation hearing in 1999.

Theresa Wolfwood. 1999

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