Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you about Bill C-6 today. As you know, the Oslo convention prohibits the use of cluster munitions. Canada was one of the first countries to sign the convention in 2008. The convention also prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster weapons.
Let me state clearly and unequivocally at the outset: the Government of Canada is committed to ridding the world of cluster munitions. Bill C-6 is an important step in that direction, but it is just the beginning of our work. Extending the relevant elements of the Oslo convention into domestic law will allow Canada to join the growing list of countries that share the same goal. It is worth spending a few minutes on making sure that we are very clear on what we are talking about and just what is at stake.
By definition, cluster bombs involve the scattering of many small submunitions or bomblets over a wide area from a singular container. I have some examples. These are obviously mock-ups, which I can show around the room on how problematic these are. The challenge is that when these bombs rain down on an area, they all don't explode. That is problematic after the cessation of hostilities.
I have some examples here. I will ask my office staff to pass them around so that members can get a clear idea of what we are talking about.
Extending the relevant elements of the Oslo convention into domestic law will allow Canada to join the growing number of countries in this regard. It is worth spending a few minutes on making sure we are very clear on what we're talking about and what's at stake. I have brought a few replicas with me, and we're passing them around the room.
Unexploded bomblets can pose a continuing threat to civilians long after the military action in which they are used. It is difficult to find these bomblets and it is dangerous to remove them. The unintended human toll exacted by these weapons is significant, and it is a human tragedy.
I urge committee members to look closely at these images and these replicas. There is little difference in the eyes of a child between these round bomblets and a schoolyard ball. A child sees what looks like a harmless ribbon, or a can to collect stones or to use in any other way that their young imaginations can think of.
Anyone who has ever met with victims of cluster bombs or who has heard their tragic stories cannot remain indifferent to their plight. I am sure that many of you around this table have had the opportunity to see how grave their situation is when you have travelled abroad.
My own experiences have deeply moved me. For instance, last month, I went to Laos in response to the country’s call for international assistance. Laos has to disarm a staggering 80 million unexploded bomblets that were dropped during the Vietnam War. The war ended four decades ago, but its deadly aftermath continues to be felt. Without our assistance, there would still be deadly consequences. Words are not enough to describe the extent of human costs caused by cluster bombs.
Cluster munitions like this have been used in nearly two dozen armed conflicts around the world since the Second World War. Tragically, they are still being used today. This map shows the status of stockpiles around the world.
Almost 90% of the victims of cluster munitions last year were killed or maimed in the war in Syria. Despite this, there are encouraging signs that global momentum is growing to stop their production, use, and transfer.
The Oslo convention, which was negotiated in 2008, reflects widespread concerns about the impact of these weapons and provides a framework for putting an end to them. Canada was among the 108 countries that proudly signed the convention in Oslo.
Enacting the bill before you would allow Canada to legally ratify the convention and to become a state party. I think we're clear about the reality of these weapons, and I hope I can say that all of us are committed to working towards a world where they will no longer exist.
Now let's look at the reality of making this happen. The fact is, not all states are ready to ratify the Oslo convention, as we are. Interestingly, Laos, where I visited, is one of the countries that is not ready, despite being one of the first countries to sign the landmines convention.
Among those parties is the United States, Canada's closest ally and the country with which we have the closest defence and security relationship of any two states on earth. That cooperation is of central importance to Canada's national security. In this uncertain world, to walk away from generations of a unique and privileged partnership would undermine the safety of Canadians within our own continent, and it would weaken our ability to contribute to peace and security internationally.
A lot has been said about article 21 of the convention. This article permits the armed forces of states parties to conduct operations or serve in exchanges with the armed forces of non-states parties.
Not having this would have significantly undermined Canada's ability to operate in coalitions and to maintain alliance relationships. Canada and a number of our close allies would not have been in a position to sign the convention. The United Kingdom and Australia, for example, have adopted similar measures in their legislation, and for similar reasons.
Of course, I wish that article 21 were not necessary, and maybe one day it will not be. I would prefer a world in which all of our allies had signed and ratified this convention, but the reality is that we're not there yet.
Canada's unique defence collaboration with the United States takes many forms: information sharing, logistics support, joint exercises, and combined operations, to name just a few. There is no doubt that it is absolutely crucial in meeting our broader defence needs.
This close cooperation could lead to members of our armed forces finding themselves in a situation whereby the provisions of Bill C-6 might apply to them while they're simply doing the job that they are trained to do and that we ask them to do. For example, Bill C-6, because of its scope, could apply to situations where Canadian Armed Forces members call in air support when under attack, or refuel an aircraft, or even just engage in military planning or the sharing of intelligence.
Remember: this is a criminal law bill. And it is a criminal law bill that is ambitious in the scope of what it will criminalize. Without these exceptions, which are permitted by the convention itself—and I want to underline this: which are permitted by the convention itself—our servicemen and -women could be held criminally responsible for doing the tough and often incredibly risky jobs they have volunteered for.
We do not want that, and I'm sure you don't want that either, so out of concern for our soldiers, I believe that this carefully balanced approach we have taken is something that we can all support.
Let me be clear that Bill C-6 enshrines the prohibitions outlined within the convention and the permitted exceptions to those prohibitions as set out in article 21—nothing more, nothing less.
Let me make something else perfectly clear. No Canadian soldier will use cluster munitions, ever. I want to repeat that: no Canadian soldier will use cluster munitions, ever. A directive from the Chief of the Defence Staff will see to that. When this bill is passed, we can task that directive.
Let's have a look at the reality of our defence relationship with the United States and the extent to which these exclusions might apply in practice.
There are over 67,000 members of Canada's regular forces and more than 28,000 in the reserves. Each day, hundreds of these members are taking advantage of our friendship with the United States through training, exchanges, or secondment within the U.S. military. These secondments improve the security and safety of all Canadians. Within these secondments, it would be a very, very rare scenario in which a Canadian Armed Forces member might—might—be directly implicated in the use of cluster munitions by U.S. forces.
For example, at this time, there are fewer than five Canadians in command positions in multilateral operations, fewer than five single members of the Canadian Forces. The slide here gives you a sense of what we're talking about; the little red Canadian stick man is actually disproportionately large, but we couldn't make it any smaller.
As you can see, the principal offences in the bill would affect only a tiny, tiny number of personnel and operations, but the bill also has to include aiding, abetting, counselling, and other forms of indirect involvement. It is these interpretations that could potentially extend to many more personnel if we don't protect them.
I am proud to be able to say that Canada has never produced cluster munitions and we've never used them in Canadian-led operations.
I can also say that even though we're not yet a state party to the convention, the Department of National Defence has already begun the process of destroying Canada's remaining cluster munitions.
These munitions were acquired many, many years ago, dating back to the seventies. Given that they're older, they're probably the ones we should be most worried about. Obviously the failure rate of the explosion of the droplets would be even higher than the ones they make today. These munitions were withdrawn from service several years ago. They are secure, and they will be destroyed with Canadian oversight as soon as possible.
So as weapons of war, cluster munitions in Canada are a thing of the past. It is actions like these that will make a real difference to the horrific impact of cluster munitions.
Our actions are by no means limited to this bill. During my visit to Laos, I announced a further donation by Canada of $1 million to help Laos deal with this horrendous remnant of a long-lost past war.
I want to put it in context. In Laos today there are 80 million of these droplets and land mines that are unexploded: 80 million. And Laos is a very geographically small country. The horrors of people scavenging for the metal to recycle and earn money, or children playing.... They had a mock-up at the Cope headquarters I visited of a typical home where many household lamps and other things used metal from these ordnances, most unexploded but some not. To think that these weapons were used in our lifetime is horrific.
Since 2006 Canada has contributed more than $200 million worldwide to help remove such deadly legacies of conflict, but we can do more and we must do more. Looking forward, I will be allocating up to $10 million in new support over the next 18 months.
The great benefit of this is that not only are we clearing areas, land masses, of these weapons, but when that land is cleared, people are safer and the land is now accessible for agricultural production. It's really a win-win proposition.
Canada will continue its proud tradition of support for demining efforts, victim assistance, and risk awareness programs. We will also be making contributions to support advocacy and outreach effort to non-state actors in support of the Oslo convention. Canada will continue to engage in outreach activities to promote the convention and its objectives at the diplomatic level.
We will make sure that Canada's voice is heard loudly and clearly on this issue, but we need to be a state party to have the credibility to do that. This bill is the right thing to do and the right way to do it. I call on the committee to work with us. Let us not allow our differences to stand in the way of advancing these important goals.
I want to say this: I have appreciated the opportunity to speak with a few government members and with critics from both the official opposition and the Liberal Party. I think we share the desire to tackle this problem. I look forward to your having the hearings, where you'll learn more about this. I will be ready, as always, to listen to the deliberations from all members and to your views on these issues.
I did want to come out and very clearly say two things. One, we take this issue incredibly seriously. Two, I have taken the time, that a number of you requested, to have quite a challenge function with members of the Canadian Forces to drill down on what is absolutely necessary for the article 21 exemption. I understand you'll be having some other witnesses, and I look forward to hearing a report on their testimony.
I'll be very pleased to take your questions and comments.