MIKE BLANCHFIELD, CanWest News Service
_ The Montréal Gazette January 14, 2005 Friday
Canada agreed 9 months ago: records; Privately declared willingness while publicly sitting on fence about controversial issue
The federal government told senior U.S. officials nine months ago that Canada was committed to joining the Bush administration's controversial ballistic missile shield, say Defence Department documents.
In fact, a package of newly declassified military documents shows the Paul Martin Liberals have been privately telling the Americans they want to join the shield, even though they have been publicly dragging their heels on making a decision on the controversial issue.
Martin faces intense pressure from some opposition critics, as well as some members of his cabinet, not to join the shield, which is intended to protect North America from a ballistic missile attack, but has been widely criticized by scientists as unworkable.
Other cabinet ministers, such as Defence Minister Bill Graham, want Canada to sign on to the shield. But Martin has postponed making a decision until the Liberals' policy convention in March.
Before last year's federal election - and less than one week before Martin's first trip to Washington to meet President George W. Bush - government officials told the ranking U.S. State Department official on Western Hemisphere relations that Canada would support the shield.
"Canada is committed to reaching an agreement on co-operation in the ballistic missile defence of North American during the coming months," says a March 23 briefing note by the
Defence Department's policy branch in preparation for a call to U.S. assistant secretary of state Roger Noreiga.
"Canada sees its participation in BMD as being anchored in Norad, which has for almost 50 years been an integral part of our partnership in the defence of North America."
Five months later, the Liberals approved an amendment to the Norad treaty to allow the joint Canada-U.S. aerospace command to serve as the command and control centre of the shield system.
On his two-day visit to Canada six weeks ago, Bush urged Canada to join the shield.
But Martin continues to delay a decision, saying only that he will act in Canada's interests and only when the time is right.
However, some defence documents, among hundreds of pages of heavily censored material that were recently released under Access to Information, show the government has been working toward joining the system.
A Feb. 6, 2004, briefing note for an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers said: "Over the past eight months, our officials have made considerable progress on exploring possible Canadian participation in ballistic missile defence of North America.
"The government of Canada wants to continue to work closely with the U.S., as we have done for over 60 years, in the defence of the continent. BMD will build on this co-operation."
Another memo says Canada's participation in the shield would not compromise national sovereignty. "Ensuring that Canada continues to take responsibility for the defence of Canadians would be an exercise in sovereignty, not a diminishment of it," the memorandum states.
The memo says the possible financial costs to Canada were not part of the discussions and that it is "not yet clear whether the U.S. would be interested in Canadian territory for future phases of the system."
So far, the U.S. has not asked for the use of Canadian soil for the shield's systems, which now relies on a series of ground based interceptor rockets in Alaska and California.