Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada must focus on "concrete measures" that will rid the world of nuclear weapons as a Canadian who survived the Hiroshima bombing called on his government to sign a symbolic UN accord to ban them worldwide.
Mr. Trudeau remained non-committal on Friday when asked about the pleas from Setsuko Thurlow. The 85-year-old Hiroshima survivor will be one of the individuals accepting the Nobel Peace Prize next month in Oslo on behalf of this year's laureate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Ms. Thurlow has questioned Mr. Trudeau's leadership after Canada declined to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an accord that was adopted last July at the United Nations.
While Mr. Trudeau praised Ms. Thurlow as an "extraordinary individual," he declined to say if his government would now support the treaty, strongly suggesting he is not reconsidering his position.
"We're focused on significant, concrete measures moving forward that will actually include countries that have nuclear weapons," Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Saint-
Bruno-de-Montarville, Que., where he was promoting his government's new spending measures.
"I think any time you're going to talk about moving forward on a nuclear-free world, you have to focus on the countries that already have nuclear weapons and therefore look at reducing that amount."
Instead, Mr. Trudeau said Canada is taking a leadership role by chairing a high-level UN group on the development of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, to help halt the production of a material used in nuclear weapons.
While 122 UN member countries voted in favour of the UN treaty last summer, states with nuclear weapons such as the United States, together with Canada and its NATO partners – with the exception of the Netherlands – boycotted the talks.
The nuclear weapon ban treaty itself has no binding effect on countries that have weapons and none of them would be likely to sign on.
But disarmament advocates hope that a treaty banning the last remaining legal weapon of mass destruction will provide the ethical momentum to banish them to history.
Mr. Trudeau said that Ms. Thurlow's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN is a "cause for celebration."
"This extraordinary individual, her story and her continued fight for a nuclear-free world remains something that this government and Canada is always supportive of," he said. "We need to move towards a safer world with far fewer nuclear weapons. We need to create a nuclear-free world for our children and grandchildren."
Ms. Thurlow was 13 when the United States dropped the bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. She said she is "more than disappointed" that Canada declined to sign onto the UN treaty last summer.
"I question the quality of leadership of the Prime Minister," Ms. Thurlow said in an interview Thursday with The Globe and Mail.
A former social worker who has lived in Toronto since 1955, Ms. Thurlow implored Mr. Trudeau to sign the accord and help the world work toward eliminating nuclear weapons, asking how the father of three would react if his own children were killed.
"Can he imagine how he would feel to watch his own children just incinerated, melted, carbonized? That's what happened in front of me, and I watched the city full of those people who simply melted," she said.
"My four-year-old nephew had that fate."