The U.S. Coast Guardhas suspended its machine-gunexerciseson the Great Lakes until nearby American residents have their say, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Monday.
MacKay was respondingto questions aboutcontroversialcoast guardplansto set up 34 live-fire zones in the Great Lakes so its crews can practice shooting machine guns mounted on their boats. The guns can shoot up to 600 rounds per minute.
The agency has already conducted some live-fire exercises andbegan holding public hearings Monday in order to ask American residents near the lakes what they think are the bestproposed locationsfor the ranges.
NDP Leader Jack Layton asked MacKay in question period Mondaywhat the Canadian government was doing to ensure the security of people who live, work and play on the Great Lakes while the U.S.fires live ammunition there.
MacKay said no coast guard machine-gun exercises will take place until the public hearings are over on Nov. 13.
"Canada has made its views known to the United States, and clearly we will follow these consultations in the United States to make those views further known to see that we get a proper resolution,"he added.
MacKay noted that the previous Liberal government confirmed the firing ranges are permitted under a Canada-U.S. treaty signed in 1817.
Lt. Ryan Barone, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the firing ranges are allowed under a 2004 "understanding" reached between the two countries in response to concerns about terrorism and border control.
Canadians want a say
Politicians representing Canadian cities bordering the Great Lakeshavecomplained that they cannot participate in the public hearings, even though they are near some of the proposed firing ranges.
One site is within 40 kilometres of Kingston, Ont.
The city's mayor, Harvey Rosen, said Kingston residents should be consulted.
Coast guard officials have said guns will only be fired in American waters.
But Bob Runciman, Conservative MPP for Leeds-Grenville in Eastern Ontario, said he is concerned the exercises will impact the Canadian side of the lake.
"It interferes with boating channels, recreational boating channels. It could have an impact on tourism, fishing, [and] commercial boat traffic," Runciman said.
"These are waters we share."
Sarnia, Ont.,Mayor Mike Bradley said he is also concernedthe bullets will harm the freshwaterplants and animalsin the lakes.
'They effectively have now made the Great Lakes a military zone.' -Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley
"Weâre talking about lead and copper bullets polluting the waters of the Great Lakes at a time when we're making major strides in cleaning up the Great Lakes."
However,a U.S. study said the bullets would not harmthe freshwater ecosystems.
Prior to the start of the coast guard exercises in January, guns have not been fired on the Great Lakes since the war of 1812, said Bradley.
He said the new firing rangesare a huge backward step.
"They effectively have now made the Great Lakes a military zone," he said, adding thatthe Canada-U.S. border used to be the longest undefended border in the world, and that claim to fame is now a myth.
U.S. Coast Guard officials said Canadians will have plenty of notice before the firing ranges begin operating.