While applauding Canadian ATT accession, civil society looks for action to curb our Saudi arms exports

Canada is in the final stages of becoming a member of the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In a press release on 21 June Foreign Minister Freeland announced that Canada had taken the formal steps required at UN headquarters in New York:

We made a commitment to ensure Canada accedes to the Arms Trade Treaty, by submitting our instrument of accession, we are making this a reality. Canada will become an ATT State Party 90 days after the presentation of its instrument of accession.

This action follows a lengthy legislative process to amend Canada’s current Export and Import Permits Act to reflect what the Minister describes as a “stronger and more rigorous approach to the export of Canadian arms”.

Canadian civil society organizations, including the Rideau Institute, Project Ploughshares, Amnesty International Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec  and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), responded with the following joint statement:

Statement by CSO’s on the occasion of Canada’s accession to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

We Canadian civil society organizations, long active in the effort to strengthen Canadian controls on the export of military equipment, today commend the Government of Canada’s formal announcement of this country’s accession to the global Arms Trade Treaty.

As Minister Freeland herself stated, the ATT opened for signature in 2013 so this step by Canada is long overdue and most welcome.  In particular we commend the Government of Canada for the legislative and regulatory changes to Canada’s export control regime to more effectively regulate Canada’s arms exports in accordance with the high global standards set out in the ATT. – Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares

Canada’s new arms export vetting procedures include an obligation on the part of the Foreign Minister to deny an export permit where there is a “substantial risk” the Canadian-made weapons could be used to commit or to facilitate serious human rights abuses or undermine international peace and security.

Another important change to existing practice is that, for the first time ever, export permits will be required for some US-destined weapons — namely full conventional weapons systems, albeit under an expedited method without a prior risk assessment.

The inclusion of at least some exports to the USA is a modest first step toward full compliance and transparency in Canada’s military exports with its largest trading partner.  Hopefully, Canada will amend the legislation in the future to meet all its obligations under the ATT, which requires export permits and risk assessments on all conventional weapons exports, including parts and components, to all destinations. – Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME

This action by Canada to formally join the Arms Trade Treaty comes against a backdrop of controversy over our continuing export of LAVs to Saudi Arabia, despite that country’s shocking record of internal repression and war crimes in Yemen. Most recently, the UK has suspended weapons exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the  UK Court of Appeal ruling that found them in violation of international law and the U.S. Congress has voted for a second time to ban American arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia have now been under review for a full 8 months. In the meantime, our exports to Saudi Arabia have continued with, according to some credible media reports, alleged use of Canadian LAVs in Yemen, even as the peace process flounders and civilians continue to suffer from indiscriminate air strikes, torture and forced recruitment of children.  The time has come for Canada to take decisive action, once and for all, and suspend any further weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. – Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute

We believe that joining the Arms Trade Treaty will only be meaningful if Canada “walks the talk” and ensures that, henceforth, our export of weapons will strictly comply with the global standards set out in that Treaty.

Photo credit: Julien Chatelain (UN Headquarters, NYC)

Tags: "substantial risk" criteria, Amnesty International Canada, Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), child soldiers, Export and Import Permits Act, Oxfam-Canada, Project Ploughshares, Torture, treaty accession, U.S. Senate, UK Court of Appeal, War crimes, Yemen