Thank you very much for this opportunity to address the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
The Arms Trade Treaty is an amazing document. It took over 10 years of campaigning and six years of UN processes to come into being. It has the potential to bring the arms trade under control and prevent the devastation wrought every day through arms-fuelled poverty, conflict, and human rights abuses. Throughout the world, both the persistence of cyclical conflicts and high levels of armed violence are hampering development, increasing human rights abuses, and exacerbating poverty.
Before the ATT, there was no global treaty regulating the trade in conventional arms and little to prevent the high number of weapons that end up in the illicit market. The ATT therefore offers an important humanitarian tool for addressing the challenges posed by the poorly regulated flow of weapons to some of the world's least developed areas and to conflict zones.
I am the director of the Control Arms coalition, which brings together hundreds of non-governmental organizations from all regions of the world and from many different fields, including human rights, poverty alleviation, conflict reduction, weapons specialists, health, youth, gender, and survivor networks, parliamentary networks, and legal expertise.
Control Arms provides evidence-based research and analysis, conducts outreach to government supporters and the public, builds capacity and expertise among both governments and civil society, and facilitates policy dialogue. We have an emphasis on support and training in the global south and in monitoring of Arms Trade Treaty implementation.
Canada's absence from the ATT was a strange exception over the last few years, and we are greatly encouraged by the current government's commitment to accede to the treaty in the near future. This presents a tremendous opportunity for a return to the leadership in disarmament and peace issues for which Canada was once renowned, for example, through the leadership which led to the Ottawa convention and subsequent mine ban treaty signed in Ottawa in 1997.
The current process toward accession also presents a great opportunity to modernize Canadian export control legislation toward high standards in transparency and accountability and with a firm basis in international human rights and humanitarian law. We welcome some of the positive considerations in Bill C-47, such as the inclusion of brokering and the extension to extraterritorial controls on brokers. However, we share our Canadian partners' concerns on some of the flaws in the legislation, which I would encourage you to reconsider. The most important and relevant aspects of the ATT I would like to highlight in this regard are as follows.
First, there is the purpose of reducing human suffering. Central in the object and purpose of the ATT in article 1 is the purpose of reducing human suffering. This is the goal that must remain paramount in all efforts to universalize and implement the treaty. This is an instrument specifically designed to reduce the human suffering resulting from armed violence and armed conflict, not only in the direct deaths and injuries caused by weapons but also through trauma, displacement, economic impoverishment, torture, and oppression. Therefore, Canadian legislation must also be oriented toward this goal of reducing human suffering.
Second, there is the aim of the highest possible common standards, which article 1 also calls for, meaning that there should be no exemptions or exceptions. The continued exclusion of exports to the U.S., constituting as they do over 50% of Canadian arms exports, is a significant omission. Canada will be undermining common standards by excluding a major arms importer and exporter that's unlikely to become a states party in the near future. Article 2 additionally emphasizes that the treaty is applicable to all exports covered under the scope, and article 5 calls on states to implement ATT in a consistent, objective, and nondiscriminatory manner. To our knowledge, there is no other country that enables such a specific export destination to be exempted from its legislation in its ratification or accession to the ATT. To do so would be both unusual and undermining to the core principles of the treaty. The very nature of the ATT is that it is global, the first treaty to regulate the trade of conventional weapons, and therefore aims for universal adherence to high common standards.
Third is the importance of absolute prohibitions and risk assessment. The heart of the treaty is in articles 6 and 7, which cover prohibitions and risk assessments. These articles are very clear and unambiguous that a state “shall not” authorize an arms transfer where it has knowledge the arms will be used in war crimes, in violation of international agreements to which it is a party, or where a risk assessment results in overriding risk. Canadian proposed legislation, which will allow the foreign affairs minister to merely take into account such risks, sets a much lower threshold. In our view, this would mean Canada would not be in compliance with the ATT.
Additionally, I would like to encourage you to consider appropriate parliamentary structures that would enhance oversight and transparency. We have found around the world a strong correlation between active parliamentarians in both the speed of ratification and accession and effective treaty implementation. In the U.K., for example, the committee on arms export controls functions as an additional cross-party oversight mechanism, which holds ministers to account and hears evidence from expert stakeholders.
Finally, I would draw your attention to the inclusion in article 7 of specific language on “gender-based violence”, mandating the risks of gender-based violence to also be considered as part of the authorization assessment. This is the first treaty ever to include specific language on GBV and its operative provisions, and I encourage the Canadian government to explore all possible ways to ensure that this groundbreaking aspect of the treaty is implemented.
In conclusion, the two most important flaws in the proposed legislation, which I encourage you to reconsider, are, first, that Bill C-47 does not cover arms exports to the U.S. and that this therefore leaves a large percentage of exports that will be excluded from the treaty provisions, and, second, the lack of legal limits on the discretionary power available to the foreign affairs minister.
Control Arms supports the universalization and implementation of the ATT, and we believe that it can have a positive humanitarian and human rights impact. We urge you to seize this opportunity to reposition Canada once again as a leader in disarmament and peace-building and to demonstrate the highest possible standards in bringing the arms trade under control.