When Canada opted out of the 'Star Wars' U.S. missile-defence plan

The federal government was opting out in 1985, but Canadian businesses and universities were still free to take part in a system that would nullify missiles carrying nuclear arms from the Soviet Union before they could hit the U.S.

Strategic Defence Initiative aimed to neutralize incoming Soviet weapons in space

No 'Star Wars' for Canada

37 years ago
Duration 2:48
The government announces it will not take part in the Strategic Defence Initiative in 1985 -- but Canadian companies are free to.

The federal government was opting out.

But in 1985, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced that Canadian businesses and universities were still free to take part in a proposed system that would nullify nuclear arms from the Soviet Union before they could hit the U.S.

"Mulroney knew the announcement he was about to make would almost certainly take the steam out of the national debate on Canada's role in 'Star Wars,'" CBC reporter David Halton said on Sept. 7, 1985. "Or, as it's known officially, S.D.I. — Strategic Defence Initiative."

Accompanied by a video to illustrate the concept, Halton described S.D.I. as "a project that would develop space weapons to shoot down Soviet missiles before they reach their target."

Other opportunities

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney assured reporters that U.S. President Ronald Reagan wasn't disappointed by Canada's decision not to participate in the Star Wars project. (The National/CBC Archives)

But the Canadian government had concluded the country didn't stand to gain much in the way of jobs, nor would it have a say in how such a system was deployed.

Canada's universities and high tech companies like Litton Industries were free to bid on contracts for S.D.I. — bids that might still allow them to qualify for government subsidies and tax breaks.

But Halton said "delighted" peace activists were skeptical that many contracts would be actually be forthcoming.

"Mr. Mulroney has not exactly joined the peace movement, but he's taking a decision that we support fully," said Jim Stark, who was with a group called Operation Dismantle.

Mulroney said he supported the American reasoning for the U.S. wanting to defend itself via the Star Wars project.

"Only a naive six-year-old would fail to understand that the Americans are involved in this research because the Soviets ... have expended billions of dollars and committed thousands of personnel to it," he said.

In February 1987, according to the Globe and Mail, the U.S. Administration had "officially put all major SDI decisions on hold."

According to reporting by Halton, as described in the CBC television catalog, "Star Wars" was declared officially dead by the Bill Clinton administration in May of 1993. 

Dubbed Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative proposed to neutralize Soviet weapons headed to the U.S. while they were still in space. (The National/CBC Archives)

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