Cluster’s last stand


The Harper government has introduced ratification legislation that will have the perverse effect of gutting Canada’s support for the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions (Chris Cobb, “New Canadian legislation on cluster bombs weak and ‘an insult’: critics,” Postmedia News, 29 April 2012):

New federal legislation intended to cement Canada’s role in a major international treaty to ban lethal cluster bombs is weak and will make Canada deliberately complicit in the use of the weapons, say experts.

“It falls way below even the minimum threshold of legality under international humanitarian law and is an insult to colleagues in other countries who, seemingly unlike Canada, have negotiated in good faith,” said former Foreign Affairs arms negotiator Earl Turcotte, who led Canada’s negotiating team at the treaty negotiations.

“Most tragically, it will make Canada complicit in the use of a weapon that for good reason we have supposedly banned. Having led the delegation I can say that without doubt this legislation is the worst of any of the 111 countries that have so far ratified the treaty.”

Canada signed the cluster treaty in Oslo in December 2008 but has yet to ratify it. Ratification requires domestic legislation that the Conservative government quietly tabled last Thursday and, according to both Turcotte and the anti-mine advocacy group Mines Actions Canada, has been compromised by Canada’s military relationship with the United States.

The legislation signals that a turf war over the treaty between the Foreign Affairs and Defence Departments was won by Defence, said Turcotte. …

The ratification legislation, which will now go through Commons and Senate committees, appears on one hand to ban the weapon but on the other allow many exceptions including permission for Canadian commanders to order military personnel from ‘non signatory’ countries use clusters and for Canadian pilots on secondment to drop them.

“In what world could a reasonable person claim that any of these exceptions is consistent with a total and unequivocal ban on cluster munitions,” said Turcotte, who predicts a torrent of international criticism will soon be aimed at the proposed legislation. “It would require contortions of law, logic and morality to come to such an outrageous conclusion.”

Photo credit: John Rodsted

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