One year after his passing, Murray Thomson’s legacy teaches us to keep working for peace

Published by Brent Patterson on

This Saturday May 2nd marks the 1st anniversary of the passing of Murray Thomson, one of the founders of Peace Brigades International.

His friend Dennis Gruending has noted, “Murray was a student at the University of Toronto when the Second World War began. He enlisted in the air force and became a pilot although he never actually flew a combat mission.”

Dennis adds, “He was still in the military when, in 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. He has often said that Hiroshima and Nagasaki made him a pacifist and he has spent the years since then resisting militarism and working for peace.”

Indeed more than 70 years later his friend Koozma J. Tarasoff took this photo of Murray speaking to a group of people gathered for a Hiroshima and Nagasaki remembrance ceremony by the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on August 9, 2017.

Koozma also photographed Murray at the annual protest against the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa. About 12,000 people from 55 countries gather each year to promote, sell and buy weapons at this arms show. This photo of Murray at a No CANSEC protest was taken on May 30, 2018, less than one year before his passing.

Koozma also notes, “I last saw him on March 30, 2019 at the ‘Say No to NATO’ demonstration in downtown Ottawa during a blizzardy snowy cold day. He came out on his walker. I took pictures of Murray and briefly talked about the Big Issues of society — of disarmament and peace.” This protest took on the sidewalk outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

The call for Canada to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an issue Murray worked on for many years on. Notably, Murray produced this paper posted in November 2008 that concluded, “the legal, ethical and environmental reasons for withdrawing from NATO, both short and long term, are far more compelling than the immediate economic and political ones for not doing so.”

Murray’s legacy and the work to be done

A Congressional Budget Office report in February 2019 estimated that the United States will spend $494 billion on nuclear weapons from 2019 through 2028.

Furthermore, Canada has not signed, ratified or implemented the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

While this year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, concerns about the danger of nuclear war remain as pressing as ever.

US President Donald Trump has called on NATO members to spend more on the military. In 2016-17, Canada spent $18.9 billion on its military and now has plans to increase that spending to $32.7 billion in 2026-27. Canada is also expected to increase the proportion of its “defence” spending on equipment to 13.3 per cent (up from 11.9 per cent).

And while the CANSEC arms show was cancelled this year due to the pandemic, it plans to return on June 2-3, 2021. The Government of Canada has reported, “For the 2018 calendar year, Canada’s total exports permitted under the Export and Import Permits Act of military goods and technology amounted to approximately $2.069 billion, which is over double the value of 2017 exports ($1.031 billion).”

Project Ploughshares, one of the groups Murray helped form, highlights that Canadian arms exports to the United States are not included in that figure and the above report acknowledges “an estimated half of all Canadian exports are to the U.S.” As such, the truer figure could be closer to $4 billion a year in arms exports.

With urgent work remaining to be done to build a peaceful world, Murray’s legacy of critical insights, commitment to peace, organizational development, and hopefulness leaves much to inspire us to continue his work.

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