Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, I'll restrict my comments to the only area of Bill C-281 on which I am competent to speak, and that is regarding cluster munitions.
First I'd like to congratulate Mr. Lawrence and the parliamentary colleagues who worked with him to develop these proposed amendments. Certainly with respect to cluster munitions, what these amendments would do is to make explicit in Canada's law what some would maintain is implicit in the prohibition on assistance in the development or use or in any other way advancing of the use of cluster munitions. I will, as you'll see very soon, be recommending that amendments go further than this provision, however.
Very quickly, for those who may not be that familiar with cluster munitions, they were first developed in World War II. They have been used most extensively in the carpet bombing campaigns in southeast Asia and the Vietnam war, and used more recently in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria and, as I'm sure most of you know, very extensively in Ukraine, mostly by Russia, although there have been reports in a few instances of use by Ukrainian troops.
These are the polar opposite of a precision weapon. They have been described as conventional weapons of mass destruction. They are by design area-wide weapons. When a cluster bomb is dropped, either at ground level or from the air, think of it as a large, hollow casing within which there are typically hundreds of submunitions, extremely deadly submunitions, far deadlier, actually, than land mines on average. One cluster bomb can cover an area roughly the size of three football fields. Russia today is using many of them, multiple-launch rocket systems that can launch 12 rocket rounds in very quick succession. Essentially they are weapons that saturate a given area. They make no distinction, of course, between combatants and non-combatants, especially when deliberately used in civilian areas, as appears to be the case in Ukraine.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross and civil society experts, roughly 97% of all known victims worldwide have been civilians, 66% of whom have been children, who are often drawn to the bright colours of the submunitions. Many maintain that they've been designed that way quite intentionally.
It was no mistake, then, that the international community in the mid-2000s decided that cluster munitions had to be banned as most of the world had already banned anti-personnel land mines, an initiative led by Canada in the late 1990s, and had also banned chemical and biological weapons, and blinding laser weapons among others.
I was a public servant for 29 years, and I had the honour of leading the Canadian delegation throughout the 15-month negotiations of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Within that negotiation, the most contentious issue related to interoperability with non-party states; that is to say, our capacity, in our case as a member of NATO, to continue to work effectively alongside countries like the United States that chose not to participate in negotiations. At least 85% of the countries were absolutely opposed to any provision for interoperability in the convention, for fear that this would provide a legal loophole that would, in some respects, contribute to the continued use of cluster munitions.
I, as head of delegation, and 21 NATO colleague countries and a few non-NATO countries, insisted that we had to have within the convention itself provision for interoperability, while making it very clear at the same time that this in no way would allow our troops to advance the use of cluster munitions. In fact, we went further and said we would put right in the article itself the fact that we were legally obligated to make best efforts to discourage the use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances.
That is exactly the way, in my view and the view of 110 other state parties, this article within the convention should be interpreted.
No sooner did we return to Canada in 2008 than colleagues at the Department of National Defence insisted on including in Canada's act exceptions that would apply during combined operations with non-party states that, in my view and in the view of many others, are absolutely contrary to the convention itself. Those exceptions would allow for a Canadian commander of a multinational force to order the use of cluster munitions by non-party states, for Canada to transport them on Canadian carriers and, in many other substantive ways, to aid and abet in the use of cluster munitions.
I would urge this committee to please consider amending section 11 of Canada's act to absolutely remove all these exceptions, which are not consistent with the commitment Canada, as a state party, has made.