Madam Speaker, I want to talk today specifically about the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention implementation act part of Bill C-17 for the next nine and a half minutes.
Since 1925, the Geneva protocol has prohibited germ warfare and the use of biological weapons. The convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological, biological and toxic weapons and on their destruction, better known as the BTWC, bans the possession of such weapons altogether.
The BTWC, which was concluded in 1972 and entered into force in 1975, was the first global treaty to prohibit an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. It represents a universal norm and is an important pillar of international peace and security.
Canada, which signed and ratified the BTWC in 1972, strongly supports this convention. Canada attaches great importance to full compliance with all the provisions of the convention and fully supports its purposes and objectives.
Canada does not have an offensive biological weapons program.
Canada has long sought to strengthen the international norm against biological weapons. To this end, it has participated actively in negotiations for legally binding compliance protocol to the BTWC, which would institute a system of declarations, inspection visits and investigations and create an international organization for the prohibition of biological weapons to monitor respect for the provisions of the convention.
A protocol of this nature would also require states, parties, to enact specific legislation, creating national authorities to implement its provisions.
To our profound regret, negotiations for such a protocol collapsed in July, 2001, after seven years of work, denying the world its best chance to achieve a mechanism to impede the development and spread of biological weapons.
Subsequently, last December in Geneva, at the fifth BTWC review conference, the Canadian delegation worked to promote an outcome which would have contributed to the convention's integrity and vitality by building bridges and encouraging those countries with the requisite expertise to assist others in enacting or improving their national legislation, by advocating an enhanced review process and by working for the adoption of new measures to strengthen the convention, including a viable way forward to resume negotiations for a multilateral, legally binding compliance mechanism for the convention.
It was unfortunate that the review conference was unable to achieve an outcome and that it was forced to suspend work for a year.
Let me however assure members that Canada has not given up efforts to reinforce the global ban on germ weapons. During the past year we have worked closely with like-minded countries to prepare for the resumed review conference, which concluded successfully on November 15.
Canada is pleased that the conference endorsed a multilateral inter-sessional work program that will help to strengthen the effectiveness and implementation of the BTWC and will continue to participate actively through this agreed inter-sessional work program leading to the next review conference in 2006.
We have also taken a number of steps, on a strictly national basis, with the review to reinforcing the treaty. To cite but one example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs recently sent letters to his counterparts in more than 40 states, which are not party to the convention, urging them to ratify or accede to the BTWC.
In the past year, many countries have indicated that in the light of events of September 11 and in the light of subsequent bioterrorism attacks using anthrax, they are in the process of revising or supplementing their own legislation relevant to biological weapons.
National enforcement efforts cannot substitute for an international compliance mechanism aimed at preventing the development of biological weapons but in themselves, national efforts are still valuable and necessary.
Export and import controls, licensing, domestic inspection, verification and policing all complement and buttress the global ban on biological weapons.
Article IV of the BTWC requires state parties, in accordance with their constitutional processes, to take measures to prohibit and prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of banned substances and articles in their territory, jurisdiction or control.
In view of the collapse of the protocol and negotiations in July 2001 and the terrorist threat that emerged only two months later, it is now appropriate to go beyond the strict requirements of the convention and to supplement our existing legislation with an act that specifically prohibits both biological weapons and related agents.
The biological and toxin weapons convention implementation act will put Canada at the forefront of efforts to prevent biological weapons proliferation and bioterrorism. It will help Canada fulfill its obligations under the BTWC more comprehensively with respect to domestic law, ensuring that the conventions ban is respected not only by the Government of Canada, but also by individuals, organizations and institutions in Canada.
The vast majority of biological agents and types of equipment that may be employed in the manufacture of biological weapons are dual use. That is to say, these substances and articles have a legitimate, even vital, role in fields such as science, medicine, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and agriculture. Likewise, bio-defence programs intended to develop detecting devices or vaccines, antidotes and protective gear to defend against biological weapons attacks require biological agents and equipment. Dual use agents and equipment are therefore essential to our health, prosperity and security and for the advancement of knowledge.
The BTWC recognizes the dual use nature of these substances and articles by allowing agents that have prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes in equipment not designed for hostile purposes. These exemptions for legitimate use are preserved in the legislation.
The BTWC implementation act will therefore provide the legal basis to create a licensing regime for a more complete control of biological substances and articles. It will also permit the establishment of a responsible authority. It sets out the powers of inspectors charged with enforcing the act.
The legislation has been carefully drafted to ensure that Canadian procedures will be compatible with any eventual international compliance mechanism which Canada is continuing to advocate. While the licensing regime and regulations should be rigorous, they must not be excessively burdensome to legitimate users of biological agents.
Just as the BTWC is a framework convention, the BTWC implementation act is framework legislation. We expect that the process of elaborating regulations and of establishing the responsible authority and inspectorate will require intensive study and consultation with many sectors, including industry, the farming sector, universities, medical and scientific communities, research institutes as well as the provinces and territories and other interested parties. It will be important to get the details right. A one size fits all solution will not work.
The level of scrutiny and security required for a containment facility studying highly contagious diseases would obviously not be appropriate for research institutes studying low risk pathogens.
While the burdens of the act imposed on legitimate users of biological weapons will not be onerous, the penalty for illegitimate users will be severe. The development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, use or transfer of biological weapons or biological agents not having peaceful purposes will be an offence punishable by a suitably stern sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1 million. The act also sets out lesser penalties for interference with its application. These provisions will help to deter anyone tempted to acquire or to assist others, whether they are terrorists or foreign powers, to acquire biological weapons.
This act will make Canada and the world a safer place. It will help impede the development and spread of biological weapons globally. It will show that Canada is committed to the fight against terrorism. At the same time, it will underscore our active support for the BTWC, for a rules based, multilateral approach to non-proliferation arms control and disarmament consistent with Canada's historic role in furthering co-operative activity.