My name is Thomas Woodley. I'm the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
I first wish to thank the committee for this kind opportunity to speak to you this morning. It's a privilege, of course, to be here. I look forward to a frank and honest discussion about Canada and its role in the sad realities of the international arms trade today.
CJPME is an organization, my organization, whose mission is to empower Canadians of all backgrounds to promote justice, development, and peace in the Middle East. We have about a dozen activist groups across the country, and we have approximately 125,000 Canadians who have participated in our activities and campaigns over the years. Because of the devastating role that arms have played in the Middle East over the years, my organization has become increasingly involved in attempts to limit the flow of arms to the Middle East.
CJPME was thrilled when the international Arms Trade Treaty was first concretely debated in 2012, then adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2013, and entered into force in 2014. However, despite our excitement at the adoption of the ATT by much of the world community, we were saddened and upset by the Canadian government's reluctance to consider signing the treaty for many of the past several years.
It's important to note that at the same time the ATT was creating greater hope for higher standards and greater transparency in the movement of arms around the world, Canada was negotiating one of its largest arms deals ever with a serial human rights abuser, Saudi Arabia. This arms deal has been in and out of the news over the past two or three years, as you all know, I'm sure, with two successive governments providing shifting justifications for the sale, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia regularly ranks among the worst of the worst of human rights violators.
In fact, a survey of Canadians just two months ago, in September, by Nanos Research for the The Globe and Mail found that 64% of Canadians oppose or somewhat oppose the Canadian government's decision to sell light armoured vehicles to the Saudi government. Despite the fact that it's common sense, as demonstrated by the survey results, that this sale should not have been approved, Canada's existing export controls, as embodied in the Export and Import Permits Act, EIPA, failed to prevent the sale. There is clearly much to say about this sale, but it's obvious that for a strong majority of Canadians, the current EIPA provisions did not properly function to prevent this sale.
We had high hopes that the new government would sign on to the treaty in a way that would address the long-standing shortcomings of Canada's existing arms export controls. Nevertheless, when Bill C-47 was introduced, it was immediately clear that many of the fundamental objectives of the ATT were being circumvented through the provisions of the bill, whether through omissions, through exclusions, or through deferral to regulations, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
The committee has already heard from a number of witnesses, and I believe there are important points to make regarding some of the testimony that the committee has already heard. I'll address three points.
The first is the need for a legally binding obligation in Bill C-47 on the minister. A witness for the government admitted the following:
Article 7 of the ATT requires each state party to consider a number of specific risks with respect to the items proposed for export, before authorizing the export to take place...The critical element was the need to create a legally binding obligation for the minister to take the ATT assessment considerations into account in deciding whether to issue an export permit.
First, we must be clear that the ATT establishes strict prohibitions on arms exports, depending on an objective risk assessment, and that simply requiring taking considerations into account will not satisfy Canada's obligations under the treaty.
The same witness went on to suggest that the ATT requirement was “most effectively implemented through regulation”. My organization would vigorously disagree with this conclusion. Implementation of this obligation via regulation may be the easiest or most malleable implementation, but it creates a glaring loophole that could lead to high-risk arms sales being approved. In fact, it is precisely this type of loophole that led to the $15-billion Saudi arms deals to be approved under the existing EIPA regulations, against the better judgment of the Canadian public.
As such, my organization agrees with the testimony provided by several other witnesses before this committee which asserted that in order to comply with the ATT fully, Bill C-47 must oblige the Minister of Foreign Affairs to deny exports that carry an overriding risk of contributing to undermining international peace and security, or committing or facilitating serious violations of international law.
Our recommendation would be that Bill C-47 establish an obligatory minimum threshold for export approval as per the ATT. I posit, for example, that there is no need for flexibility around the question of whether or not Canada should approve an arms sale if the arms in question risk being used in human rights violations. If, according to government witnesses, additional flexibility is required to accommodate evolving threats and new international norms, let additional regulations address this need above and beyond the minimum threshold demanded by the ATT and codified in Bill C-47.
Regarding the need to report arms sales to the U.S. under Bill C-47 implementation of the ATT, a witness for the government suggested that accession to the ATT would not require Canada to track and report arms sales to the U.S. Nevertheless, a plain-English reading of the ATT would suggest otherwise. Article 1 of the ATT insists on the highest possible common international standards in the sale of arms, yet Canada's existing arrangement with the U.S. has neither a high standard nor a common standard.
Article 2 of the ATT makes clear that this implementation applies to all arms exports of acceding nations. Exempting Canadian arms exports to the U.S. specifically contradicts this obligation.
Finally, article 5 of the ATT calls for the treaty to be implemented in a consistent, objective, and non-discriminatory manner. A separate, less stringent process for Canadian arms exports to the U.S. clearly is not the consistent standard demanded by the ATT.
The government witness suggested that the ATT does not specify how states parties should organize their export control systems. This may be a fair statement as long as the export systems in question do not violate a nation's obligations under the ATT. However, Canada's arrangement with the U.S. under the defence production sharing agreement clearly does not meet Canada's obligation under the ATT.
For my final point I would suggest that as we consider Bill C-47, we should try to segregate the decision between our ethics and Canadian jobs. I suspect that privately many of the committee members here are as uncomfortable as I am with Canada's $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. However, because proponents of the deal have positioned it as a choice between questionable risks on the one hand and Canadian jobs on the other, the issue becomes a political hot potato. It is not surprising that elected representatives in successive governments would take the approach they have given that the alternative would be a form of political self-flagellation.
Therefore, I would recommend that Canada's implementation of the ATT include provisions to enable lawmakers to avoid this type of catch-22. Perhaps as a result of the role of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the Saudi arms deal from the get-go was presented as a trade-off that would jeopardize well-paid Canadian defence jobs in London, Ontario.
Under Canada's accession to the ATT, the ethical issue should be addressed much earlier in the sales process, long before people are calculating the trade-off in Canadian jobs.
Naturally, a legally binding obligation on the minister, as required by the ATT, could help prevent many morally questionable deals from even being considered, but beyond that, CJPME would recommend that lawmakers look at other ways to segregate and front-load the ethical considerations of the deal before the potential economic benefits of the deal are promoted publicly. As mentioned above, there may be implications in terms of the ongoing role attributed to the Canadian Commercial Corporation.
The above discussions highlight some of our top concerns with the pending legislation. CJPME would recommend that if they have not already done so, committee members should be sure to review a document issued by a group of Canadian NGOs, CJPME included, entitled “Bill C-47 and Canadian Accession to the Arms Trade Treaty Civil Society Concerns and Recommendations”.
This document was officially released on October 16 and was the result of deliberations between many of Canada's leading NGOs on this issue, including CJPME. It details a number of items that go beyond the scope of my presentation here today.
I believe Canada has the opportunity to prevent unnecessary misery and suffering around the world as a result of unwise or illicit arms sales. My organization and I exhort this committee to propose the amendments necessary to ensure that Canada's accession to the ATT adheres to both the letter and the spirit of the treaty.
Thank you for your attention. I welcome any comments.