Bill C-47 leaves majority of Canada’s military exports unregulated

In her address to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament on 28 February last, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland discussed Bill C-47, Canada’s legislation for accession to the Arms Trade Treaty:

Canadians are rightly concerned about how arms could be used to perpetuate regional and international conflicts in which civilians have suffered and lost their lives. We must be confident that our institutions are equipped to ensure we are not perpetuating these conflicts. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard.

On Thursday, 1 March, the Liberal government introduced an amendment to Bill C-47 to place directly in the legislation a new obligation on the Minister to reject export permits where there is a substantial risk that the export will cause or facilitate serious human rights abuses or undermine international peace and security.

Speaking about the impact of this amendment, Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute stated:

In my view this amendment will set hard legal limits on the previously unfettered discretion of the Minister to grant or deny export permits. Furthermore, and most significant, this assessment of the presence or absence of a substantial risk will be subject to judicial review.

That is the good news!

The bad news is that the government has not closed the glaring loophole that would see all our military exports to the USA continue to be exempted from Canada’s export permit authorisation and annual reporting processes.

A fundamental obligation of the Arms Trade Treaty is for states parties to control all of their conventional arms exports, including parts and components. Individual states do not have the right to pick and choose what weapons to include or what destinations to exempt. Such action by Canada makes a mockery of the ATT objective to establish the highest possible common international standards. – Peggy Mason

In the clause-by-clause consideration of the legislation on Thursday at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière of the NDP introduced two important amendments to further strengthen the legislation:

  • A requirement to reassess existing export permits should new information about human rights abuses come to light; and
  • A requirement to include USA exports in the annual report to Parliament of Canada’s military exports.

Both of these amendments were voted down by the government members of the Committee.

Polls show that a majority of Canadians rightly recoil from the prospect of Canadian arms exports fueling regional conflicts or facilitating serious human rights abuses. Minister Freeland’s own words (quoted above) make this very point.

So please act today!

Email Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at or and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at

and your local MP and urge them to:

  1. include arms exports destined to the USA in our export permit authorization system; and
  2. require a reassessment of existing permits in light of new evidence of substantial risk.

There is still time for the government to enact Arms Trade Treaty accession legislation that is truly worthy of a country with a proud history of working to strengthen human rights, international law and international peace and security. – Peggy Mason

For further information, see:

Tags: Arms exports, Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Bill C-47, Export and Import Permits Act, FM Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs critic Helene Laverdiere, International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Peace and Security, Peggy Mason, President of Rideau Institute, serious human rights abuses, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, substantial risk test, USA