Mr. Speaker, I hope we do get a chance to hear from the member for Toronto Centre again tonight.
Continuing the last exchange, it is astonishing to hear members of the Liberal Party, who complained about national caveats during our forces' time in combat in Afghanistan and in Kandahar, who pushed for NATO command of that mission starting in 2003 and then Canadian command of the first NATO combat mission in southern Afghanistan in 2005-06. That same Liberal Party, now in opposition, has become the stern daughter of the voice of God on the whole question of whether interoperability can actually be made a practical reality.
The Liberals did not want to apply these principles of pulling Canadian troops out of U.S. units, of not having Canadian pilots who may be based with U.S. squadrons providing air support to U.S. units that might need it because of the danger of cluster munitions. They did not raise any of those concerns, even while this convention was under negotiation at that time. In the heat of combat, most of them wanted the best for our troops and wanted our troops to do well. They knew very well, very quickly, that they had sent the Canadian Forces into Afghanistan under-equipped, without the right uniforms, the right vehicles, the right mobility, tactical strategic lift, that this country with its expeditionary tradition should always have. They were embarrassed for it and they were called on it, and they will wear their record of a decade of darkness, the lowest ebb of support for the Canadian Forces, for the rest of their history.
However, on this issue of cluster munitions and exceptions, the hypocrisy we have seen tonight is astonishing. The members of that party that wanted us to lead the first NATO combat mission in one of the most difficult theatres imaginable now wants to fetter those same forces with an inability to work comprehensively with their U.S. colleagues. It wants to fetter the forces from being good allies, to be one of the few countries that do not have those caveats and that do not shy away from combat when it is necessary and authorized and the right thing to do. The comments from the member for Toronto Centre probably do more than anything I am about to say to advance our case for this legislation. It is the right legislation to govern our involvement in the Convention on Cluster Munitions at this stage in our history, while the United States is still on a different path.
Let me say a few things about this important legislation from the perspectives of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Let us remind ourselves what those Canadian Forces are still doing at home and abroad that brings them into contact with Canadians on all three coasts and across this great country. They are in contact with allies, with many of the countries the member for Toronto Centre mentioned, many of which sent contingents to Afghanistan but did not have the size, scale or capability to do the heavy lifting that countries like Canada did.
Our troops have responded in the last year to natural disasters, such as floods in Quebec and the Prairies, forest fires in British Columbia, and a hurricane in Atlantic Canada. They support law enforcement agencies when called upon. They patrol our Arctic. They conduct search and rescue missions. We discuss those missions almost every week in this House of Commons. They do it on some of the most inhospitable terrain and climate on earth.
Abroad, our men and women in uniform have been heavily committed to the mission in Afghanistan, first protecting Kabul, the capital, while our allies were off on another mission in Iraq. Then they were in combat in Kandahar, bringing NATO forces into a pitch tempo of operations that they had never seen before in the history of the alliance. Now they are training the Afghan National Security Forces.
The forces have protected civilians in Libya. They are engaged in counter-narcotics missions in the Caribbean basin and the eastern Pacific. They are helping to foster maritime security in the Arabian Sea. Let us recall HMCS Toronto and its seizures of heroin, opium and hashish on historic scales, which the allied navies have never before achieved.
We are also participating in a number of international missions, from Cyprus to Golan to South Sudan. More and more the forces find themselves working in complex, sensitive, legally challenging theatres of operation. There is no rule of law in many of these states and societies when these missions are undertaken. That is why these Canadian Forces, and indeed the new authorities in many of these countries, are looking to international law, including conventions, agreements and other treaties to guide their actions.
One of them is the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which Canada signed in good faith four and a half years ago. The bill before us would allow Canada to ratify that treaty. However, even though the convention has not yet entered into force in Canada, and this is a key point, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces have already taken clear steps to abide by its spirit.
First and foremost, it is important to recognize that the forces have never used these weapons in any of their operations. If anything that we say tonight deserves repetition, it is surely that fact. The Canadian Forces, with their record of success in world wars, peacekeeping, Korea and Afghanistan, have never had recourse to cluster munitions. Even three years before Canada signed the convention, the forces had begun to phase cluster munitions out of their operational weapon stocks where they had remained unused. It was not long after that the forces began ridding themselves of these weapons entirely, a process which is nearly complete now that Public Works and Government Services Canada has posted the last contract for the destruction of our remaining stock of cluster munitions.
While this process of stock destruction was under way, the Chief of the Defence Staff underscored the forces' position on these weapons, by prohibiting their use in any of our military operations. The fact that all this took place before Canada even signed the convention shows our commitment, and the commitment of the Canadian Forces, to its aims.
It is because we recognize that the kind of international co-operation that leads to agreements like the convention results in a safer world and, by extension, greater security for Canada.
The Canadian Forces have always been strong supporters of the arms control and disarmament regime. It helps to keep the world an orderly and more peaceful place, where fewer military operations are required.
However, this kind of international co-operation naturally requires more than just signing treaties, and it goes further than co-operation initiatives in the area of arms control.
For a number of decades, Canada has been a strong defender of multilateral security efforts. The Canada First defence strategy highlights the importance of this type of co-operation in the present-day context.
Partnership and co-operation with all of our allies is also a priority for NATO, and with countries beyond NATO.
Clearly, international co-operation in the defence field will remain one of the cornerstones of Canada’s security for a long time to come.
Let me contrast this vision of security with our many partners. There is the United States here in North America, but there are dozens in NATO and dozens outside of NATO that have active security co-operation with Canada. The member for Toronto Centre said this government was responding to some kind of imperial pressure. I look around to Europe, south of the border, Asia, and I fail to see, and I think all of us on this side of the House fail to see, an imperial power in this day and age to which Canada would subordinate itself in any way, shape or form.
It is for that reason that we will continue to remind the House and Canadians that we are speaking about today's reality, not about the anxieties of the 1920s or the 1950s and not about something of historical interest. We are speaking about Canada's security reality today, our partnerships in the world, our co-operation in the world, and our arms control and disarmament obligations in the world.
As I have already mentioned, international co-operation in the field of security involves more than treaties. It encompasses areas such as collaborative research, development, training, information sharing and joint operations.
These endeavours help the Canadian Forces safeguard Canada’s security because, in today’s complex world, countries cannot face down most threats by themselves.
In today’s volatile environment, Canada has a close ally. For decades, the Canadian and American armed forces have worked side by side to safeguard the security of our two countries and foster global stability. This is why the Canada First defence strategy specifies that the Canadian Armed Forces have a duty to strengthen this long-standing co-operation by remaining a strong and reliable partner in the defence of North America.
I might as well ask if the member for Toronto Centre knows the history of his own party?
It was the Liberal Party of Canada that brought us into the North American aerospace defence agreement. We are the smaller partner, but it is for the larger objective of defending North America, and we did that of our own free will. This government supports that alliance as much as any Liberal government did. However, it is not a question of ceding sovereignty, but a question of defending peace and one's national interest more effectively with allies. We have always done it.
The strategy also calls on the forces to co-operate with our partners and allies, including the United States, in order to promote international security.
Our long-standing co-operation with our American friends has proven successful over the years. It has allowed us to have access to important information, dialogue with key decision-makers and enhance our own military capability, and at the same time it has enabled our defence industries to work together more effectively.
Of course, it is to export to the United States and beyond as well.
This is a relationship worth preserving. Doing so was a priority for Canada during the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. That is why Canada championed the clause within the convention dealing with the military co-operation of signatory states with countries that are not party to the agreement, countries like the United States.
This clause found in article 21 of the convention and reflected in Bill S-10 strikes a fair balance between humanitarian principles, on the one hand, to which we are absolutely committed, and Canada's security imperatives on the other. It protects Canada's ability to co-operate in a meaningful way with its partners that have not yet signed the agreement, and it complies entirely with Canada's humanitarian obligations under the convention. That is perhaps something that needs reinforcing. Despite all the rhetoric from across the way, we are complying entirely with the requirements of the convention.
The legislation before us today reflects Canada's interpretation of this clause, and as such would allow us to remain fully interoperable with the U.S. military. It would preserve the valuable liaison and exchange positions that the Canadian Armed Forces share with our most important ally. It essentially means that in combat the Canadian Forces would not be obliged to leave U.S. units just because there was a suspicion that cluster munitions might be used.
Of course, members of the Canadian Forces would not use them and would not be directly involved. Of course, our units would never use them. That would violate our obligations under the convention. However, should we leave our U.S. colleagues hanging in Afghanistan, or some other combat mission, just because of the possibility of a legal stricture not having been met?
The fact is, interoperability between our two nations remains essential to Canada's defence and security. It is more important now, in 2013, than ever before. Every dime counts. Every solider counts. Every capability needs to be leveraged, here, within NATO, and in every operation around the world.
Article 21 of the convention reflected in Bill S-10 would also give our men and women in uniform the legal protection they need to continue to co-operate with other non-signatory states, without fear of being disciplined or put on trial. This includes when they are participating in combined military operations, multinational exercises, training opportunities and military co-operation away from the battlefield. The fact is that this kind of co-operation is integral to the work of our military.
That being said, this will not take away from our commitment to fulfill all of our obligations under the convention. The Canadian Armed Forces will at all times, and during all operations, continue to remain bound to these obligations to prohibit the authorization of or participation in any indiscriminate attack, including one using cluster munitions, regardless of whether they are acting independently or with foreign partners.
To put it simply, no Canadian Armed Forces member would ever directly use a cluster munition or specifically ask that one be used in circumstances where the choice of munition used is within the exclusive control of the Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, as they move forward with implementation, the Chief of the Defence Staff would issue additional directives to ensure this is fully enforced in practice.
These military directives would specifically prohibit Canadian military members on exchange with allied armed forces from using cluster munitions or from giving or receiving training in their use. They will also prohibit the transportation of cluster munitions by the Canadian Armed Forces or by third parties under its control.
Our question to the opposition is this: How are these safeguards somehow insufficient? How does the opposition think that with its self-righteousness tonight it could wish away the reality of a different policy in the United States, a country that happens to be our most important ally? These restrictions, which would be implemented as soon as Canada ratifies the agreement, would actually exceed the convention's requirements.
To conclude, wherever they operate, the Canadian Armed Forces abide by their national legal and humanitarian obligations. Their obligations under the convention are part and parcel of that cross-cutting commitment. As I said at the outset, National Defence has already prohibited the use of cluster munitions in our own operations. We have removed them from active service. We have taken all the necessary steps to destroy our remaining stockpile.
Going forward, Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and to its ultimate universalization. What does that mean? It means that we want all countries to become states party to this convention, including the United States. We will engage in advocacy. We will engage in outreach. We will engage in diplomacy to that goal. We recognize that in doing so, we reinforce our broader efforts to foster domestic and international security. We also realize that this commitment to our collective security can only be undertaken in close co-operation with partners and allies, some of which have not yet signed the convention.
With that in mind, until such time as the goal of universalization is realized, the legislation before us today strikes the necessary balance to ensure that we remain true to our obligations under the convention, while enabling us to remain a strong and reliable partner in the quest for peace and security both at home and abroad. As such, I call upon my hon. colleagues to support this important legislation so that we can take the next steps in the critical phase of implementation.
Let me close with two personal points. We are living in a dangerous world. I personally have experience with cluster munitions from that most recent theatre of combat for the Canadian Forces, Afghanistan.
The exception being provided for in this legislation is not an abstraction. It is not something we should be arguing about legalistically on blackboards. It is something that is really needed.
When we were walking in the hills and valleys of Afghanistan, more than once during my time in that country, there were moments when one would take a step over some boulders, look across a divide in what seemed to be a remote place, but a place where sheep, people, shepherds and travellers would nevertheless pass, and there they would be, the cluster munitions that had been left, in some cases by the Soviet Union, in some cases by the United States.
I was never a direct witness to the atrocious human tragedy these explosive remnants of war left on Afghan families and on Afghan villages. Fortunately, those travelling with me always managed to see them and stepped away to miss the little tennis-ball-sized balls of destructive power.
However, they were used, not just by countries we would have once considered our enemies, such as the Soviet Union, not only by China, with its growing military power, but by the United States. We may regret that use. That use nevertheless happened. I guarantee that it happened in units where Canadians were either actively embedded, had been embedded before, or afterwards would be embedded.
It would be a shame, in fact outrageous, given the dependence we have had on the United States for partnership in the military field and that NATO has had on the United States in the military field in Afghanistan and elsewhere, for us to be refusing that kind of fellowship, that kind of professional development and that kind of involvement—because U.S. soldiers are also embedded in our units—simply because one particular weapon may have been used on a few occasions in Afghanistan.
Believe me, I do not have cases, and we have studied them a lot, in the United Nations mission elsewhere in Afghanistan, in which cluster munitions were used mistakenly against civilian targets. I hope that they were not. The munitions we found in the mountains had been left there by pilots discharging their loads as they headed back to the aircraft carrier to their base thinking that they had been destroyed, thinking that no one would come to harm.
There is a legacy there of explosive remnants of war that needs our attention. It has received attention. Canada has been one of the foremost countries funding demining programs, funding the destruction of unneeded ammunition in huge quantities in Afghanistan to try to make this wartorn country safer. However, we should not encumber ourselves with an absolutely ridiculous obligation to cut off our co-operation with the United States, our ability to embed with U.S. units, simply because the United States, on this issue, happens to be in a different place, and we would argue behind us in terms of adherence to the convention. It is according to its own decision-making, on the basis of its own sovereignty and given its own military role in the world.
We on this side hope for the passage of this legislation. We hope for understanding. We know that Canadians want that partnership with the United States to continue. We hope the opposition will understand, especially the Liberal Party, that by continuing the kind of rhetoric members have displayed tonight they are really going against a decision they took--