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Ray Creery Remembers 1982-1988

Ray Creery entered the Royal Canadian Navy as his career of choice in 1940. He took early retirement in 1970, after reaching the rank of Captain, and commanded a Destroyer Squadron and then an Air Squadron. His dislike for the idea of fighting a war with nuclear weapons was a major factor in his decision to take early retirement. He joined Veterans for Multinational Nuclear Disarmament in Halifax soon after it started, and was a very active member for many years. Here are his memories of the early years.

What strikes me about the early activities of Veterans for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament in 1982-83 is their substance and extent. The four founding members set the organisation on a solid administrative footing, set about raising funds to support and expand it, started the Nova Scotia Branch, initiated the contacts that resulted later in cross-country branches, and embarked on a series of letters, articles and speeches to announce our presence. These were designed to promote VMND but mostly to weigh-in on the public and political scene with a vigorous, sometimes passionate, but also reasoned and articulate plea for nuclear disarmament, and to oppose the intensifying Cold War encouraged by our own Government's actions.

In this initial phase Lloyd Shaw concentrated on organisation and administration, Kell Antoft on finance, Hugh Taylor on policy and Giff Gifford on getting the whole operation up and running. My own involvement began in 1984, so my personal knowledge of events dates from then .

Giff's activities from '82-87 would have been exceptional for a young man, let alone a senior. The expansion of the branches from Nova Scotia in '83 to Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Penticton, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, North Bay, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal by '87 was largely due to Giff's fervour, perseverance and powers of persuasion. It is fair to add that this success was also due to the emergence of effective leadership in the cities of the emerging branches, for example Woody Coward in Vancouver, Marion and Mark Frank in Toronto, Alan Phillips in Hamilton and Leonard Johnson in Ottawa.

Non-Governmental Organisations, as they came to be called, usually directed their energies to appeal to either those with power and influence or to the public at large. VMND (later VANA) never saw this as either/or, and worked both sides of the street. We stayed away from demagoguery and tried to treat both officials and public seriously. The National Executive in Halifax met monthly, and frequently more often, to discuss policies and problems and to direct how matters were to be handled. A steady flow of letters went to the Prime Minister and Ministers -- usually the Ministers of National Defence and External Affairs -- on such questions as renewal of the NORAD Agreement, NATO policies (particularly regarding nuclear weapons), disarmament, relations with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and nuclear submarines. We had a good relationship with Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament at the UN, Mr. Doug Roche. A series of papers was developed and published expressing comprehensive views on major issues. We called them "Towards a World Without War".

There was often a tension between consulting the membership to ensure that the views expressed a VANA consensus, and getting a paper or document out in a timely manner. This was overcome to a degree by extensive written consultation with members during the preparation of drafts, the circulation of drafts to branches, and the discussion of drafts at VANA conventions when those started in '88. No claim can be made that all were satisfied, for VANA like any party dealing with big issues developed radical and evolutionary wings. Despite this, a broadly-approved consistency was apparent in our output.

Financing proved to be more difficult than expected. Ours was an advocacy that did not prove attractive to Foundations as it went against the grain of the establishment. Our financial support lay mostly in our members' bootstraps, though we did receive funds from institutions such as the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security for certain projects. In 1985 a companion society, the Defence Research and Education Centre, was created for the conduct of impartial research and production of peace-educational material. As such, DREC qualified as a registered charity eligible for tax-deductible donations. This encouraged members' support in annual "Soldiering for Peace" campaigns organised by Kell, as well as public donations and institutional support. DREC shared VANA's accommodation, staff and facilities, so helping to reduce VANA's expenses considerably.

Groups of members made two trips to the Soviet Union and VANA representatives visited the Soviet War Veterans Committee in Moscow on several occasions. Soviet representatives attended several of our annual conventions. Over two successive years grandchildren of Canadian veterans visited Moscow to stay with grandchildren of Soviet veterans including a period spent in a youth camp, and grandchildren of Soviet veterans paid a return visit to Halifax of a similar kind, both visits being outstanding successes. By all these means the VANA membership gained some fellow-feeling with Soviet veterans that permeated our everyday efforts.

Beginning in 1987 lobbying trips were made to Ottawa periodically by VANA representatives, to meet the Minister of National Defence, leaders of the opposition, the Senate and House of Commons' Standing Committees on Defence, the Business Council on National Issues, the Royal Canadian Legion, and the Labour Congress. We established good relations with those we saw. We had ample opportunity to make our points, and always felt on leaving that we had got them across. The assistance and participation of the Ottawa Branch was always invaluable.

VANA often made common cause with other NGOs such as Ploughshares, Physicians for Global Survival, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, Voice of Women, and End-the -Arms-Race, in marches, events and presentations. The Branches undertook independent actions in their own cities and appeared before Parliamentary Committees to present their own views.