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Evidence of meeting #41 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was weapons.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Habib Massoud  Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Paul Galveias  Senior Export Control Officer, Export Controls Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Mark Fried  Policy Coordinator, Oxfam Canada, and Member, Control Arms Coalition
Hilary Homes  Campaigner, International Justice, Security and Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Member, Control Arms Coalition
Lina Holguin  Policy Director, Oxfam-Québec, and Member, Control Arms Coalition
Kenneth Epps  Senior Program Officer, Project Ploughshares, and Member, Control Arms Coalition
Steve Torino  President, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Tony Bernardo  Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Solomon Friedman  Lawyer, As an Individual

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), our study on the Canada and United Nations arms trade treaty negotiations will commence.

I want to thank our two witnesses from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. We have Habib Massoud, who is a deputy director of the non-proliferation and disarmament division.

Welcome, sir.

We also have Paul Galveias, who is the senior export control officer of the exports control division.

Paul, welcome.

Thank you both very much for being here today. I believe you have an opening statement, so I'll turn the floor over to you. We'll give you 10 minutes, and then we'll go back and forth with our colleagues to ask some questions.

I'll turn the floor over to you, sir.

3:30 p.m.

Habib Massoud Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, an arms trade treaty was first proposed formally in 2009, when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution mandating negotiations on a legally binding international treaty to set common international standards to regulate the import and export of conventional weapons.

Over the last two years, a series of meetings took place in New York to prepare for the negotiations on an ATT. These preparations will culminate in a negotiating conference to be held at the UN headquarters in New York next month, from July 2 to 27.

During these preparatory meetings, the Argentinian chairman of the ATT process prepared draft elements of a treaty text. I believe you have been provided with the chairman's draft text, which is dated July 14, 2011.

The chairman's text is helpful but needs improvement, particularly in sections dealing with the implementation and with transparency and reporting. Nevertheless, we believe it can serve as the working basis for negotiations on a treaty, as long as elements of the text undergo further revisions, particularly to the sections on implementation and on transparency.

An arms trade treaty—or ATT— should one be finalized this summer, will set common standards for national export and import regimes to regulate the international transfer of conventional arms.

Canada and others will advocate that the treaty not set out how each country should organize its own domestic import and export controls but only what the goals of such controls should be.

Canada believes an ATT should include criteria to determine if exports would, one, violate UN Security Council sanctions; two, contribute to serious violations of human rights; three, contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law; four, provoke, prolong, or aggravate armed conflict; five, support or facilitate terrorism; or six, support or facilitate organized crime. If so, the arms export would be prohibited. Without these six key criteria, any future ATT would be meaningless.

While the ATT's criteria are meant to disrupt the irresponsible trade in conventional weapons, the treaty should also recognize the legality of the legal and responsible international trade in conventional weapons and respect the lawful ownership of firearms by responsible private citizens for personal and recreational uses such as sports shooting, hunting, and collecting.

In order to do this, the Canadian delegation to the ATT negotiations this summer will propose that two elements be included in the treaty. The first would recognize that the purpose of the treaty is to prevent the illicit and irresponsible transfer of conventional weapons, while the second would acknowledge and respect the responsible and lawful use of firearms for recreational purposes like hunting and sport shooting. Adding these elements to the treaty will focus and define its terms.

Many of Canada's friends and allies agree with this proposal and have worked closely with the Canadian delegation at the ATT talks to draft text that would be acceptable to a large majority of countries.

The Canadian government will have two goals at these talks.

First, it wants to be sure that the legitimacy of firearms ownership by responsible, law-abiding private firearms owners is recognized, which would be accomplished by our proposal to add the two elements I have just mentioned.

Second, the government wants to ensure that no new burdens are placed on Canadian firearms owners and manufacturers. This second goal has already been largely achieved in the lead-up to the ATT talks this summer.

All the countries participating in the talks now accept that the treaty should set out what countries signing it should do—for example, preventing conventional weapons from falling into the hands of criminals or terrorists—but it should not set out how countries should be doing this; that is, the treaty should not dictate to countries signing it how they should be organizing their own export control regimes, only that the goal of these controls should be to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of criminals, terrorists, and human rights violators.

Canada already has in place a robust system of controls for export of conventional arms. The international standards for export controls that will be established by an ATT will almost certainly be lower than those of Canada's own export control regime. The items being considered for inclusion in an ATT are already subject to export controls in Canada.

Similarly, many of the criteria being contemplated for an ATT are already factors that the government considers when deciding whether or not to authorize an arms export. Therefore, Canada's present export controls will remain largely unchanged by a future ATT. This means that Canadian firearms owners and manufacturers will not have any new rules or regulations imposed on them by an ATT.

Four weeks have been allocated for the talks this summer to negotiate an arms trade treaty. The four weeks will be difficult, and success is by no means assured. However, Canada will work closely with our friends and allies, including in particular the U.S.A., the U.K., Germany, Italy, Japan, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, to negotiate an effective ATT that will make a significant contribution to global efforts to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and terrorists, while at the same time recognizing and protecting the ability of law-abiding private firearms owners to enjoy the recreational use of their firearms in a responsible manner.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to start with Mr. Dewar.

You have seven minutes, sir.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to our guest. It's good to have you back at the foreign affairs committee.

This is a treaty that many had hoped would be able to curtail the trade in arms. Clearly, as we watch scenarios like Syria happen, we see that there's an urgency to deal with the proliferation of arms. I have to say that when you look at the conflicts in a multipolar world and at the types of conflicts that we're seeing now, it is absolutely critical that we do this in a multilateral way. As you mention in your overview, we can have our own policies as nation states, but it's clear I think that if we can do it in a multilateral way, it will be more effective, and it will deal with the proliferation.

Just in terms of negotiations, you made a couple of points that have been topical with regard to the treaty. In particular, you emphasized a couple of times that you want to make sure that the treaty is going to, as you put it, “respect the lawful ownership of firearms by responsible private citizens for personal and recreational uses”, and you reference “sports shooting, hunting, and collecting”.

This, of course, became a bit of an issue during negotiations. I'm just wondering about this. Were there other countries that had the same opinion on it that we did? Also, were there other countries that actually didn't find this to be as important an issue as Canada did?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

Certainly, many of our allies understand that the purpose of the ATT is to target bad people—let's just say, very generally, terrorists, criminals, and human rights violators—and there has always been the implicit understanding that, look, this is not meant to target legitimate, responsible trade by legitimate, responsible, law-abiding individuals. When I've discussed this with other delegations, they've said, well, of course, you know, that's implicitly understood. The argument the Canadian delegation has returned is, well, that's fine, so let's make it explicitly understood.

The question really has been, how do we protect that interest? We've explored a number of options. Some of them did not meet with much favour. The latest option we are proposing now, that of including text in the preamble, seems to have achieved the greatest support for achieving that goal. But there really hasn't been much disagreement about the goal generally.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Is it safe to say that we were the only ones identifying this as an issue?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

No. Initially it was identified by Italy and Japan, which felt that this was important to them as well. We were just more active in exploring options to achieve this goal.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

So it's safe to say that with regard to the concern we heard before—and which certainly was that Canada was pushing this issue to the point of saying that we might not be able to sign on—there has been some form of what we'll call a compromise found, a compromise that people can live with.

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

I hope you're not mistaking goals with approaches, because the goal of focusing the treaty on impeding the trade to terrorists, criminals, and human rights violators has been generally accepted and generally agreed on. It is about how that approach is to be achieved. The simple fact is that, beforehand, delegations said, well, look, this is implied. The Government of Canada said, let's find some way of making it clear, and let's clarify it in this. Some of the approaches we suggested early on did not meet with much favour. It's now the new approach that has met with much greater favour, but the general goal has never been in dispute.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Regarding the corruption of the arms trade, when you look at how we can actually attack that and what would be an effective ATT, how are we able to address that? That's a big issue in the arms trade, as you know. It's about money, and attacking corruption is going to be important. So what's our best way of attacking that problem within this very lucrative business? Something that obviously drives it is money—and misery, I suppose. Can you tell us about how we can get at the corruption within the arms trade?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

The chairman has proposed as one of the criteria what impact that will have on corruption in the receiving country. Certainly, we will support the inclusion of that criteria as the chairman has let us set it out, but—and my colleague here can answer this even better—one of the things we are looking at is, for one, that we evaluate an export permit and ask if this is a legal permit and if all things are being done in a legal manner. If there's any illegality involved in an export permit application and we find it including corrupt practices, that permit will be denied.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Do you believe that we have to do a better job as a country in reporting on ourselves? I reference the fact that I tried as recently as a year ago to scope out just what our sales of arms were generally to other countries. There is a bit of a challenge, if you will, with sourcing, because sometimes, as you know, sales are directly over the border and then they kind of disappear with our friends to the south. So do we not have to look at tightening up our monitoring and certainly our reporting of our arms sales?

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

We report fully consistent with national and international laws. If you want the change in the national laws to have us report more, we'll abide by Parliament's decision.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Yes, I think that would be a good idea.

3:45 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Do I have any time left?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thirty seconds.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I'll quickly hand it over to my colleague.

June 11th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Okay. I'll be very brief.

Thank you very much for being here. It's nice to see you again.

Just to follow up briefly on what Paul was mentioning about the language in the preamble, because we all know that fine-tuning the language is.... Isn't there already, in the arms trade treaty resolution passed in 2009, wording that acknowledged “the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within...”? So in the resolution that led to those negotiations, isn't there already some language that simply could be reused?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

That's all the time we have, but I'm going to ask you to finish the answer, please.

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

The language you're referring to refers to the internal trade, the domestic trade, and it has been very clear from the very beginning that the ATT is about the international transfer. It does not touch in any way domestic transfer or domestic ownership issues. What we're proposing now is to say, look, in international transfer, transfers that are legitimate, law-abiding, and responsible should not be targeted, and the target of this is irresponsible, illegitimate trade that goes to bad people—for lack of a better word.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to move over to Mr. Breitkreuz and Mr. Dechert for seven minutes, please.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Dechert.

I appreciate the emphasis you've placed on recognizing and protecting the ability of law-abiding private firearms owners to enjoy the recreational use of their firearms in a responsible manner. I see that as a priority. You've mentioned it several times.

In your answers to my colleagues here, who have raised the same kind of issue, you talked about wording in the preamble for addressing this issue. Maybe you could elaborate on that a little more and explain how that is binding on nation states that participate in this. Why isn't it in the main part? Is the preamble as strong a protection for civilian firearms ownership as it would be in the regular text?

My colleague also asked about the changes that have taken place from the previous.... Maybe you could elaborate on that a bit too.

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Habib Massoud

First, let me point out that I'm not a lawyer, so if in a legal discussion I get it wrong, I apologize. But as our lawyers have explained it to me, by putting this text in the preamble...the preamble starts to give a defining character to the whole text. Once you get past the preamble of a treaty and you go into the text, you're starting to go into the details.

The initial text sets out definitional criteria for what is being done here. We are going to be watching carefully the details of the text to ensure that the details are consistent with what we've said. But should there ever be any doubt, should there be any ambiguity, we would be able to go back to the preamble text and say, “Look, we have said...”. We have two text preambles. The first text says that the purpose of this treaty is to target terrorists, criminals, and human rights violators. The second text says that the purpose of this treaty is not to impact legitimate, responsible firearms owners.

When we go to the details of the text, should there be any confusion about that or some ambiguity and we need somewhere to be able to define what we can do, we can go back to the text in the preamble and say, look, just in case there was any doubt, here it is. I'll give you a specific example. In the discussions, a number of countries have said we should prevent weapons going to non-state actors. What they really mean by this is that they want to prevent weapons going to the likes of the narco-guerrillas in Colombia or to terrorist groups in the Middle East. That's fine, but if we were to somehow put the words “non-state actors” into the treaty, it could be misinterpreted to mean anyone who is not a government—a company, an individual....

Now, one of the things that we are going to try to do is to say, look, let's not use the words “non-state actors”; let's use the words “illegal armed groups”. That better defines it. But should there be any ambiguity about that, we could then turn around and say to look at the preamble, where we have said these people, not those people. That should clarify it, should there be any ambiguity.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Thank you. I appreciate that.

If in that final text things appear.... This is a negotiation that's going to be taking place in July. If civilian firearms are going to be included in there in some way, shape, or form, what would our response be? Would we be concerned about that?