Major amendments needed to Canada’s Arms Trade Treaty legislation
DEEPLY FLAWED ARMS TRADE BILL MUST BE AMENDED TO STOP CANADIAN WEAPONS FALLING INTO HANDS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS
GROUPS WARN Bill C-47 IS INCOMPLETE AND DOES NOT COVER THE MAJORITY OF CANADIAN ARMS EXPORTS
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