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

4:10 p.m.

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

Habib Massoud

We haven't yet received the minister's decision on who will be in the delegation. I hope we'll be hearing from the minister soon.

4:10 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Okay. Thank you.

Finally, I have to say that we welcome the decision to move back from asking for an exemption for hunting and sporting firearms, because we heard from a number of people about how this would create a problem, particularly with other countries and particularly because there is not even a definition of a hunting or sporting firearm.

Do you expect that the language you want to put in the preamble now won't necessitate the same type of reaction, and will be admitted easily by other countries?

4:10 p.m.

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

Habib Massoud

Our goal has never changed. Our goal has always been to protect responsible, law-abiding firearms owners from any impact from ATT. We're simply trying to find the best approach to doing so.

We've changed the approach from trying to define a specific class of weapons to defining a specific class of people. Therefore, the wording we are presenting would indicate that the target of this treaty is criminals, terrorists, human rights violators, and those under security council sanctions. Those who are not to be targeted are legitimate, responsible private firearms owners such as hunters and sports shooters.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

That's all the time we have. I'm going to ask that we suspend our meeting for five minutes.

To our witnesses, thank you very much for taking the time to be here. We'll get our witnesses changed out and we'll come right back with our second round.

Thank you very much.

4:20 p.m.


The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you.

I want to welcome our guests here as we look at the second hour of our hearings today.

From the Control Arms Coalition, we have Lina Holguin, member, policy director from Oxfam Canada; Kenneth Epps, member, senior program officer from Project Ploughshares; Mark Fried, member, policy coordinator from Oxfam Canada; and Hilary Homes, member, campaigner for international justice, security, and human rights at Amnesty International.

From the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, we have Steve Torino, president, along with Tony Bernardo, executive director.

As well, as an individual, we have Solomon Friedman, lawyer.

Welcome to you all.

I believe you have a well-coordinated strategy in terms of how you will deliver your message. I'd like to see this. This is going to be good.

Mark Fried, you're going to start off, sir, and you're going to pass it over to Hilary Homes. From there it's going to go to Lina Holguin, and then Kenneth Epps will finish.

Mr. Fried, we'll start with you, sir.

4:20 p.m.

Mark Fried Policy Coordinator, Oxfam Canada, and Member, Control Arms Coalition

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Bonjour, tout le monde.

On behalf of the Canadian members of the Control Arms Coalition, first let me thank you for taking up this issue and for inviting us to appear as witnesses today.

Oxfam works in 95 countries around the world. We've seen over the decades, particularly in the last 20 years, a marked increase in the number and the severity of armed conflicts and incidents of criminal violence. Disputes that might once have been resolved with fists or sticks are now fought with automatic rifles, bazookas, and grenades. This is feeding a death toll that now stands at about 2,000 people every day dying from armed violence.

We find it outrageous that countries continue selling weapons and ammunition to known human rights abusers, sometimes in violation of UN embargoes, or to countries where corruption and incompetence allow weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists and criminals.

We can do something to rein in this tragedy. With the arms trade treaty we have the opportunity to bring the world up to Canada's high standards for export controls of weapons. We can do so, as was said earlier, in a way that protects the rights of lawful gun owners.

I hope this is an issue that all parties can get behind. A robust arms trade treaty would cover all weapons, ammunition, and components. It would require governments to make a judgment call as to whether a shipment of weapons would likely lead to violations of human rights law or international humanitarian law, or would increase corruption or poverty. If the answer is yes, that shipment should not go forward.

I appreciate your interest in the details and look forward to answering your questions, but let's not lose sight of the big picture. It took over a decade of lobbying by Nobel peace laureates and by our organizations before the United Nations began these negotiations in 2009. We're now in the final stages.

Canada has been a quiet but steady supporter of the arms trade treaty. Some countries will try to water it down or tie it up in endless debate. We need Canada to be a vocal champion of the arms trade treaty.

My colleagues will answer the details. I look forward to your questions.

June 11th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

Hilary Homes Campaigner, International Justice, Security and Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Member, Control Arms Coalition

Thanks, Mark.

I'm going to speak briefly on why we need an arms trade treaty and provide a contemporary example of a situation that we hope will be addressed by an effective arms trade treaty.

What exists now in terms of regulating conventional arms is a patchwork of national, regional, and international rules and principles involving few common standards or obligations. There are significant gaps through which too many weapons simply end up in the wrong hands.

States are playing by different rules. Some states like Canada have comparatively tight export controls; others have practically none. Some states abide by arms embargoes, while others seek to get around them for political reasons or simply greed. Some states blatantly back one side in a conflict and sell arms accordingly, regardless of how they will be used.

An arms trade treaty should embrace one simple idea: if there is a substantial risk that arms exported to another country will contribute to serious human rights abuses, those arms transfers must be stopped. We need only look to Syria for evidence of how badly the current system can fail.

Despite an ongoing and serious human rights crisis in Syria over the past year, in which thousands have been killed, arrested, tortured, and many more have fled over the borders looking for safety, the UN Security Council has been unable to impose an arms embargo. Some governments, including Canada, took independent measures to impose sanctions and prohibit arms transfers. Canada's response was in fact very robust, including some seven rounds of sanctions.

For others, however, notably Russia—Russia is, of course, one of the permanent five Security Council members—it remained business as usual. The prevailing attitude can be found in the words of the general director of the Russian state-owned arms manufacturer, Rosoboronexport:

As long as no sanctions have been declared yet and as long as there have been no instructions and directives from the government, we are obliged to comply with our contractual obligations, which we are doing now.

However, you'll notice in that quote it says “as long as no sanctions have been declared”.

Russia has played a central role in preventing a wide range of sanctions. It has exercised two vetoes to block UN Security Council resolutions. Russia also voted against a recent UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the killing of some 108 people, including 50 children, in Houla. Despite being Syria's main weapons supplier, Russian President Putin said on June 1, right after the Human Rights Council vote that “Russia does not provide weapons that could be used in a civil conflict.” No information, however, was offered to substantiate that claim.

There are many other cases, many other clear cases, where populations suffer from irresponsible arms transfers, including, notably, Sudan. I would welcome further discussion of these following our presentation.

I'll turn it over to Lina.

4:25 p.m.

Lina Holguin Policy Director, Oxfam-Québec, and Member, Control Arms Coalition

Thank you very much for having us here today.

Oxfam-Québec and the members of the Control Arms Coalition think that the UN Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, in July 2012, represents an unprecedented opportunity to greatly reduce the human cost associated with the irresponsible transfer of arms.

An effective ATT must cover the import, export and transit of all types of conventional weapons, their ammunition and related equipment. It must be legally binding and stop the transfer of arms that could be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law. We are pleased that Canada supports these criteria.

However, the ATT must also prevent arms transfers by states when there is a substantial risk of undermining sustainable development. Unfortunately, Canada no longer supports the inclusion of a socio-economic development criterion in the treaty's parameters. Many civil society organizations, including Oxfam, and states, including the UK, believe that this criterion must absolutely appear in the treaty, since armed violence constitutes a direct obstacle to development. For instance, it has been shown that armed conflicts cost Africa $18 billion each year. I could also share with you other statistics that are in a new report that we are going to publish this week.

We believe that an arms trade treaty will help create the necessary conditions for true economic and social development, while also controlling the flow of arms that have precisely impeded this development in the past. I am speaking to you as a representative of Oxfam-Québec, but also as a Colombian. I grew up in Colombia, and I know what I am talking about when I say that the resources have been used for war and not for development.

Our position is clear: a weak treaty would be worse than no treaty at all. A weak treaty would simply legitimize the existing system, which is deficient.

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Kenneth Epps Senior Program Officer, Project Ploughshares, and Member, Control Arms Coalition

We know that treaty negotiations next month will be challenging. All key elements of the treaty are contested, even its scope. For example, from their recent experience, many states in Latin America and Africa insist that small arms and light weapons must be in the treaty. Yet some states, including China in particular, want small arms omitted from the scope.

Similarly, the majority of states recognize that transfer authorization criteria should be based on international commitments. Some, particularly the U.S., argue that these criteria should be taken into account during transfer authorizations but that states should not be held to a “states shall not” wording in the text. The problem, of course, is that some states will interpret “take into account” as “choose to ignore”.

Two challenges stand out for treaty negotiations. First, the closest document to a draft text is a paper prepared by the chair of the ATT process at the UN, Ambassador Moritán of Argentina. It has wide support and includes all the fundamentals of a strong treaty, but the paper has formal approval only as a background document. The second and perhaps greatest challenge is that the final treaty text must be approved by consensus. This was a condition required for the U.S. to join the ATT process, and it may well become the greatest impediment to effective negotiations.

Nevertheless, we believe Canada can play a significant and supportive role to assist negotiations towards a robust and comprehensive ATT. Canada was an early advocate, co-sponsoring resolutions on the ATT at the UN General Assembly. Canada's national record on export authorization, including its case-by-case assessment of arms export requests and its use of human rights and conflict criteria suggest that Canada can bring substance and comparatively high standards to the negotiation table. A Canadian proposal for preamble language, as we heard earlier, to acknowledge the legitimate use and transfer of firearms for recreational purposes helps to clarify that the ATT is not intended to affect domestic firearms regulation.

In our view, however, Canada should also, first, demonstrate high-level support for an effective treaty via a public statement by the Prime Minister and participation by Foreign Minister Baird in the opening ministerial segment of the diplomatic conference. Second, Canada should return to its earlier support for a strong treaty criterion on sustainable development. And third, Canada should consider including other stakeholders in the conference national delegation, such as parliamentarians and representatives of the broad range of civil society groups that have worked for a robust treaty.

In addition, we call on Canadian parliamentarians to sign the global parliamentarian declaration advocating a strong and effective ATT. To date, the document has been signed by over 80 Canadian MPs and senators from all official parties.

To conclude, civil society groups like ours across the globe are convinced the arms trade treaty is an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the human cost associated with inadequate controls on arms transfers. It can make important contributions to improved safety and security for the countless communities affected by conflict and armed violence. It is an opportunity that Canada and other UN member states should seize.

Thank you for your attention.

4:35 p.m.


The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you all very much.

We're now going to move over to Mr. Torino, who I believe has some opening remarks, and then Mr. Bernardo is going to finish off the intervention.

4:35 p.m.

Steve Torino President, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the standing committee, for inviting the Canadian Shooting Sports Association to participate and express the views of our members and other active Canadian firearm owners and users.

My name is Steve Torino. I'm the president of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. I also co-chair the firearms advisory committee, reporting to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. I have occupied this position for the last six years. Previously, I served as chair of the user advisory group on firearms for Justice Ministers Allan Rock, Anne McLellan, and Martin Cauchon from 1996 to 2003, and then I was part of Firearm Commissioner William Baker's program advisory committee for three years, wherein I chaired the firearms subcommittee.

The Canadian Shooting Sports Association represents active target shooters and collectors in Canada. From the volume of communication we've received concerning the upcoming July UN conference on the arms trade treaty, apparently the issue of sporting and hunting firearms being a part of the arms trade treaty has taken on some significance. CSSA has been asked to represent our members' position to the government.

While my colleague Mr. Bernardo will submit the views of CSSA members and of the firearms community in general, I will present some facts that may be pertinent in any discussions and deliberations this committee's members may hold in regard to the arms trade treaty.

Our members' main concern in the past has been and remains the fact that there does not seem to be an agreed upon definition of small arms and light weapons, and each country has either different interpretations or different applications regarding these items. The United Nations small arms survey and others seem to use various definitions, ranging from those found in a 1997 study to those in a 2005 UN version.

In regard to civilian small arms and ammunitions—

4:35 p.m.


The Chair Dean Allison

Mr. Torino, I'd ask you to slow down a little bit, because the interpreters are having a hard time keeping up.

4:35 p.m.

President, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Steve Torino

Excuse me, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

In regard to civilian small arms and ammunition, Canada is primarily a nation of importers, not manufacturers. Current import costs of these specific items total some $250 million, as part of an industry generating some $6 billion annually in revenue, including costs related to and in support of these activities. Related imported equipment represents about 35% of this amount.

It must also be noted that these importers also import many related outdoor products, such as those for fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities. There are items such as telescopes for firearms and products by camera manufacturers, such as Nikon, Swarovski, etc. Specific clothing and shelter products for such activities are imported by many of Canada's firearms importers.

It must also be said at this point that Canada has probably the strongest import and export controls in the world, and is regarded as having such. Canada's major trading partner in this regard is the United States, accounting for some 65% to 75% of these products as a whole.

The number of small arms in civilian hands worldwide is really unknown at this point. The small arms survey's latest estimate is that there are some 650 million small arms in private hands. This amount increases or changes depending on the type of study done and the timing of such a study.

Canada's homicide rate with firearms is 0.5%, about 175 persons per year out of some 600 total homicides per year. The number of homicides with firearms registered to accused in Canada totals under 3% of that total. The small arms survey claims there are about 245,000 firearms deaths worldwide annually. Canada does not rank among the top 10 countries for possession of legal civilian firearms, according to the small arms survey's latest estimate. This study goes on to state that “...it is inherently impossible to be sure of the total number of all guns”.

At this point, the small arms survey also says that with regard to violent deaths listed among the 58 countries that were studied, the rate of violent death for Canada was some 10 times lower than that for the country lowest on the list in their survey.

In summary, the Canadian Shooting Sports' members and Canada's recreational firearms community are greatly encouraged by the government's attention to this issue and respectfully request that this government stay the course, as outlined to date, by any means deemed most effective. National discretion is an excellent criterion for all involved.

I would now respectfully pass the presentation to Mr. Bernardo.

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.

Tony Bernardo Executive Director, Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you on a matter of such great concern for over two million Canadians.

My name is Tony Bernardo. I'm the acting executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. I've been an executive member of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities since 1997 and have been attending and working at the United Nations since 1998 regarding civilian firearms issues. I've addressed the United Nations assembly four times.

As an association, the CSSA has no objection to the concept of a treaty on conventional weapons. Our concerns relate to the firearms that ordinary Canadians use every day. It's no secret that Canada has one of the most stringent sets of controls in the world on the ownership and use of firearms. Bluntly put, we don't need any more. Neither does the United Nations, not if they're actually trying to accomplish something.

The civilian firearms issue is a very important topic to many nations. Moreover, some nations have constitutional protection regarding civilian firearms ownership, protections that prohibit their involvement in any initiative that might undermine those constitutional protections. The issue of civilian firearms is, truthfully, a no-win situation that should be avoided at all costs if there's to be any hope of a functional treaty.

However, in my conversations with members of delegations from countries less developed than Canada, I'm told repeatedly that civilian firearms are almost never a problem. Most people understand that the real issue is the proliferation of exclusively military weapons being illegally sold by countries with less than scrupulous motives.

Have there been any deaths? Well, yes, of course—but not as you might think: 56 million people have died in genocides in the last 100 years, almost all of them murdered by their own governments.

The inclusion of civilian firearms, also called “small arms” at the United Nations, in the former firearms protocol virtually caused the collapse of the entire UN process and left that project in a state of utter failure. In fact, one of the few things that ever came from the firearms protocol was the Canadian firearms-marking regulation—an unmitigated disaster, at best.

For those who are unfamiliar with the marking regulation, permit me a brief explanation.

The UN marking regulations were passed into Canadian law in 2004. As is typical of those days, firearms importers were never consulted prior to the regulations being introduced. The Chrétien, Martin, and Harper governments have successively delayed the implementation since then. The obvious question is “Why?”

Members of the Canadian firearms industry conducted an exhaustive study and concluded the marking requirement was impossible to comply with. An international study reached the same conclusion. Participants in this represented Browning, Remington, Beretta, Sako, Savage, Tikka, Uberti, NORINCO, Ruger, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch, and several others. These respectable and reputable companies flatly stated that if this were implemented in Canada, they would simply close their Canadian operations, devastating a legitimate billion-dollar industry and putting thousands of Canadians on the unemployment rolls.

These are the consequences of domestic legislation being developed by international forums with little or no understanding of the ramifications of their undertakings. An initiative, started to theoretically ease violence in the world's desperate regions, instead causes unemployment and financial hardship to peace-loving Canada.

We've been assured that the position of the Canadian government is that civilian firearms must not be included within the scope of an arms trade treaty. Indeed, the language of the preamble makes clear the Government of Canada's intention to have civilian firearms regulated domestically, not internationally.

Our support for the treaty process and the Government of Canada's participation in this process remains contingent upon the stated intention being upheld at all levels.

Civilian firearms must be regulated domestically, taking into consideration political, constitutional, and social factors inherent in each nation's makeup. In this instance, the one-size approach does not fit all.

In other words, members of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association are saying there is no good use for overriding one nation's rules based on the demands and needs of another UN state's requirements being applied to all other states without regard for each party's national jurisdiction and legislation. Again, national discretion and jurisdiction should and must prevail. The rules for civilian possession of small arms in one country do not necessarily make sense, nor are they useful, in another country.

It must also be said that we have seen no evidence that this position has changed in any way. We strongly encourage the government to stay the course and protect the rights of Canadian citizens first, before attempting to agree with having an international body regulate what is completely within the purview of Canadian national discretion and jurisdiction.

Article 2 of the UN charter specifically states that there is nothing in the charter authorizing:

...the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state....

Having one set of rules for the use of such items in all countries would be, at most, counterproductive and presumably unacceptable to the UN principle of national discretion and jurisdiction.

Lastly, to conclude, I'd like to say to Mr. LeBlanc that I wrote that, and I am not a member of the Canadian delegation, nor did I violate any confidentiality agreement.

I thank you very much for your time and attention to this, and I appreciate it. Thanks.

4:45 p.m.


The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to move on to Mr. Friedman for 10 minutes.