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1962: Voice of Women protests nuclear testing

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Stop nuclear testing, and get the arms race going in a counter-spiral. That's what 250 women want when they present a brief to Prime Minister Diefenbaker and his External Affairs Minister Howard Green. The delegation heard in this 1962 CBC Radio News report represents the Voice of Women, a group of Canadian women seeking nuclear disarmament. With children in tow, they ask the prime minister to press U.S. President Kennedy to reconsider his decision to resume nuclear weapons testing. But neither Dief nor his minister is making any promises.
• In response to a 1960 column about nuclear weapons in the Toronto Daily Star, columnist Lotta Dempsey received hundreds of phone calls and letters from women who shared her concerns. Many suggested an organized drive, and "...called saying, in effect, I will drop everything ... march in the streets ... write anyone," Dempsey reported later that month. The Voice of Women (VOW) was formed shortly after in Toronto, with chapters popping up across the country. Many prominent women joined the organization, including feminist reformer Thérèse Casgrain. Maryon Pearson, wife of Lester B. Pearson, became an honorary member.

• As part of Canada's commitment to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad), Prime Minister Diefenbaker agreed in 1958 to host two squadrons of Bomarc antiaircraft missiles. In 1960, the government revealed that the missiles - the Bomarc-B - would carry nuclear warheads. After much public outcry, Diefenbaker retreated from his position to take the nuclear missiles, but the issue turned against him in the 1963 election. Although Liberal leader Lester Pearson had formerly opposed the nuclear missiles, in the 1963 campaign, he ran on a platform promising to take the weapons. The Liberals won a strong minority government and on New Year's Eve 1963, Canada took delivery of its first nuclear weapons. Maryon Pearson resigned her honorary membership in the Voice of Women.

• On March 2, 1962, just days before this clip aired, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced America's intention to resume nuclear weapons testing. Kennedy lamented the demise of the voluntary moratorium between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. which had been in place since 1958. Citing Soviet tests conducted in 1961, he said the U.S. could not afford to fall behind in the arms race. Despite the hopes expressed here by External affairs Minister Howard Green, U.S. testing did go forward, with over 100 atmospheric and undergrounds tests conducted in 1962-1963.

• The talks scheduled to take place in Geneva referred to in the clip were part of negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty. The main sticking point, as Green mentions here, was the issue of inspections aimed to monitor underground tests. In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, progress was made and in July 1963, the underground testing element was removed from the negotiations. That paved the way for the U.S.S.R and the U.S. to agree to the Partial Test Ban Treaty. It prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater and in space.

• Today, the Voice of Women continues its work in pursuit of peace, social justice and human rights. It is an accredited NGO to the United Nations, affiliated to the Department of Public Information and the Economic and Social Council. 

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: March 7, 1962
Guest: Howard Green
Host: Bob Wilson
Reporter: Tom Earle
Duration: 2:10

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

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