Yesterday, the first in a series of public meetings with the United States Coast Guard resulted in the suspention of live-fire machine gun drills on the Great Lakes until greater safety and environmental inquiries are made.
The live-fire drills have been operating on all five lakes since January, only recently gaining public attention and inciting outrage in the recreational boating, fishing and cottaging communities. The U.S. Coast Guard, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says that its law-enforcement vessels need to be updated in order to combat terrorism and threats to American security. Live-fire zones are located at least 5 kilometres away from U.S. and Canadian shorelines, and the Coast Guard promises ample warning to nearby inhabitants.
Because the Coast Guard vessels are non-military, the arming of the patrol boats does not technically violate the 1817 Rush-Bagot Treaty which was meant to limit armaments on the Great Lakes. Canada also operates law enforcement vessels on the Great Lakes in association with the Coast Guard and RCMP, but officers are equipped with sidearms rather than deck-mounted machine guns.
While some have argued that environmental hazards would be negligible, the Globe and Mail reported yesterday that the live-fire training would deposit 3,100 kilograms of lead per year into the Great Lakes. “That’s more lead than the entire state of Michigan and all of its industries and pollution sources emit to surface waters every year,” says a spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council.
Mayor David Miller responded, “It is most disturbing that the U.S. is contemplating exercises that will militarize the lakes, cause pollution and environmental degradation, restrict shipping and recreation, and change the peaceful border between Canada and the U.S.”
Torontoist to U.S. Coast Guard: Keep your bullets out of our water, thanks.