How wanting a baby led to being declared a national security risk

Helen Caldicott, anti-nuclear weapons activist, and creator of the film, If You Love This Planet

Helen Caldicott, anti-nuclear weapons activist, and creator of the film, If You Love This Planet

by Judi Wyatt

My plan was to have a child when my husband and I had been married for 10 years.  Yes, this was rather calculated.  Even more calculated was my concern about the kind of world my children would live in.

It was the early 80’s, a time of great anxiety about nuclear weapons.  Helen Caldicott’s powerful film “If You Love This Planet” and the made-for-TV film, “The Day After” powerfully reflected the nuclear anxieties of the western world.

A Canadian, James Stark, launched community action groups across the country, under the umbrella name of Operation Dismantle.  The goal was public education about the dangers of nuclear war, linked to civic referendums calling for action. The referendums were connected to municipal elections and asked citizens to support the declaration of their city as a nuclear weapon free zone.  In the case of my city, Kingston, Ontario, this meant that no components of nuclear weapons were permitted within our community which includes highway 401.  Our goal was to in effect create a nuclear weapon free zone nation, town by town.

Members of Kingston Operation Dismantle worked hard throughout the time leading up to the municipal election to inform citizens about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the benefits of voting YES on the referendum.  On election night, we celebrated our victory: 79% voted YES and Kingston was declared a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

So now we could get pregnant!

Kingston Operation Dismantle continued to operate for decades.  We staged peace lantern events on Hiroshima Day, boycotted GE products in protest against their involvement in the nuclear weapons industry, wrote letters to the editor and met with politicians and members of the military.  We set up stalls in the market to collect signatures on petitions; once we sold home baked goods for $1 million each to raise money for weapons. We drove to Ottawa to protest ARMX, Canada’s weapons trade shows.  I lost a day’s pay as a high school teacher, and was amused when some passersby heckled, “Get a job!”

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, Kingston Operation Dismantle members, mostly professional women in their 30s and 40s, met monthly in one another’s homes, drinking juice and tea and planning how to keep the issue of peace in the mind of the public. By then I was attending meetings with a babe in arms.

Let me tell you what happened next.  Every few months, someone from CSIS, Canada’s intelligence agency, would show up at a meeting.  This person was always male, as clean cut as a doorstep evangelical, purporting to have a deep interest in peace and disarmament. Each attended only one meeting.  But we noted that on garbage day, bags of trash were stolen after meetings at our homes and my husband and I became certain that our phone was tapped.

We discussed this surveillance at an Operation Dismantle meeting and agreed that one of us should apply for her file through freedom of information.  I took this on, and after an onerous application procedure involving long code numbers in thick books at the public library, I sent off my request.

Several weeks later, a very slim envelope appeared in my mailbox.  The front of the single page stated that my application to see my personal file had been declined, giving a coded explanation.  On the back of the page, I deciphered the code to mean “For reasons of national security.”

This information was alarming, given that I had never been arrested and had drawn attention to myself largely through letters to the editor. But it was also gratifying. Someone was paying attention!

You can guess that Edwin Snowden’s revelations about surveillance were of little surprise to me given that I was declared a threat to national security 20 years ago. My daughters, now 28 and 26, find this amusing and a source of pride.

“If You Love This Planet” remains a very powerful film, 31 years later.  Watch it at:

“The Day After”   was watched by 100 million viewers and had a powerful effect on President Reagan and the  joint Chiefs of  Staff. Read about their reactions at:

Learn more about Operation Dismantle at:

Then let me know what you think.