Major amendments needed to Canada’s Arms Trade Treaty legislation




Canada’s welcome commitment to accede to the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) risks being fundamentally undermined by troubling shortcomings in the federal government’s proposed approach to implementation warns a group of ten human rights, arms control, and disarmament organizations in a briefing paper submitted to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

The briefing paper, Bill C-47 and Canadian Accession to the Arms Trade Treaty: Civil Society Concerns and Recommendations, warns that legislation introduced in Parliament in April 2017 to ready Canada for accession, in its current form, would not meet critical obligations of the Agreement, including by failing to apply the deal to the majority of Canada’s arms exports. The document is endorsed by Amnesty International Canada (English branch), Amnistie internationale Canada francophone, Project Ploughshares, Oxfam-Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Rideau Institute, Group of 78, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, World Federalist Movement-Canada, and the Human Rights and Research Education Centre at the University of Ottawa.

The uncontrolled global flow of deadly arms is a crisis whose annual cost is measured in the lost lives of countless children, women and men conflict-ravaged regions such as Myanmar, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Iraq,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

“Canada’s long overdue commitment to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty is a warmly welcomed contribution toward ending this scourge. However, we are deeply concerned the government’s implementation plan is gravely flawed and threatens effectively to gut this commitment. Thankfully, there is time to get this on track, and that is what the government must do.”

Among the most pressing concerns outlined in the briefing paper is a critical failure to apply ATT obligations to arms exports to the United States, including in cases where those weapons may be further transferred to other governments and armed groups. The value of arms exports to the United States, which has signed but not ratified the ATT, exceeds the worth of all other Canadian arms exports. This exclusion represents a major gap in Canada’s proposed implementation.

The notion that Canada could uphold its commitments under the ATT while failing to apply the Agreement to its single largest arms export market is untenable and must be rectified,” says Anne Duhamel, Director of Policy, Oxfam-Québec.

“The alarming impact of this shortcoming cannot be overstated, particularly given that the United States has not ratified the ATT and Canadian weapons could be transferred onwards to other foreign entities with abysmal human rights records, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Other shortcomings in the legislation include a failure to address arms transfers by the Department of National Defence or to acknowledge the critical role of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, whose role includes arranging arms exports to other countries — most notably the recent sale of Canadian-manufactured light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. It also allows broad powers for Cabinet to provide exemptions to the obligations of the Treaty, opening the door for a significant loophole unless further conditions and limitations are introduced.

While C-47 does make improvements to the status quo, it falls significantly short of ensuring compliance with the Treaty across all relevant government bodies implicated in arms transfer decisions, including Cabinet,” says Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute.

“Unless we see substantive amendments to address these concerns, the integrity of Canada’s ATT accession will be deeply compromised and its commitment to the Treaty will be rightly called into question.”

The briefing paper also raises concerns that the government intends to implement integral requirements of the ATT through regulatory mechanisms to be announced after the passage of Bill C-47. Among the critical obligations to be addressed this way are the establishment of standards and procedures for authorizing arms exports, adherence to prohibition obligations such as arms embargoes, prevention of the diversion of military exports, reporting standards and brokering regulations — all of which are central elements to the integrity of the ATT.

The issues the government plans to address via undisclosed regulatory measures include much of the “meat and potatoes” of the whole deal. We need all the information on the table and an opportunity for meaningful engagement and amendments if we want to get this right,” said Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director, Project Ploughshares.

“We must remember that the stakes here are enormous, which is why we are calling on the government to make significant revisions to C-47 in order to achieve the full intent of acceding to the Treaty, which is ultimately to prevent grave human rights abuses from being committed abroad with Canadian weapons.”

Background: Human rights groups have been calling on Canada to sign on to the global Arms Trade Treaty since it was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2013 and welcome the Trudeau government’s decision to take that important step. Canada committed to accede to the ATT and tabled Bill C-47 in Parliament to prepare for accession. The ATT has already been ratified or acceded to by 92 other countries, including many Canadian allies. It is the first international legal instrument to establish robust global rules to stop the flow of weapons, munitions, and related items to countries when it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or serious human rights violations. Among the countries which have already ratified or acceded to the Agreement are the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, and Nigeria. The United States, which accounts for the majority of Canadian arms exports, has signed but not ratified the Agreement.

Photo credit: Jacob Kuehn

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9 Responses to “Major amendments needed to Canada’s Arms Trade Treaty legislation”

  1. Don KerrOctober 22, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    Never give up the fight. The Trudeau government feels that Canadian jobs are more important than human rights even when the jobs are in arms industries that cause death and destruction to others.

  2. Anne StreeterOctober 22, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    The Trudeau government is making me very nervous. Where is the promised return to peacekeeping? Why did we sell Lavs to Saudi Arabia? Why are we selling military equipment to the U.S – the country that has invaded or overturned over 50 countries since the 2nd World War? Why are our troops on the Russian border? Why is our Minister of Foreign Affairs so warlike when it comes to Russia? Why are we making noises about Venezuela which is none of our business. Yes, the Trudeau government is making me very nervous!

  3. Bonnie DenhaanOctober 21, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    This weakness in our position on arms shipments is being exploited by dealers and others for profit. This is totally unethical and cold-blooded and must be ended ASAP by a strong Government stance on Canada’s part, withstanding USA pressures and living up to our International reputation as Peacekeepers.

  4. Byron BonaOctober 21, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    We can stop the flow of deadly arms…don’t permit corporations or firms dealing building and selling armaments! Get into another industry or sell only to the Canadian only. I don’t know anyone in Canada who is in a desperate need for a LAV, just as know nobody who would need an AK-47 or automatic weapon for deer hunting unless that person was intent on killing a herd. The problem with armaments is the SOURCE…don’t manufacture and sell. And the argument that other corporations in other countries will only fill in. That has nothing to do with our moral conscience as Canadians as we wouldn’t be a part of “dealing in death.”

  5. john parryOctober 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    Petition to sign ?

  6. Elaine HughesOctober 21, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    Just the idea that Canada, needing money to run the country, has to scrape the bottom of the barrel by selling arms to other countries and letting them do the killing for us, is so vile and repugnant . . . . ! Sickens me!

  7. Angus CunninghamOctober 20, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    If the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa and Nigeria are already on track to implement the ATT, then the least C-47 should do is a thorough job of doing the same.

  8. Barbara BambigerOctober 20, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    The concern is not just that arms we sell to the USA will be sold on to other “undesirable” countries. What will the USA do with the Canadian-made arms it keeps? Let’s stop pretending that the USA defends human rights at home & abroad, that it does not use these weapons to invade, occupy, & terrorize other nations & certain groups of people.


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