Mr. Speaker, Canada has long recognized that explosive remnants of war, such as cluster munitions, have a devastating humanitarian impact on individuals and communities. Not only does their presence hinder the development of communities by rendering the land or infrastructure inaccessible, but they are often found by children who are attracted by their bright colours and not aware of the deadly danger they pose. Even when they do not kill, cluster munitions have caused horrific injuries that seriously jeopardize the future of those affected and their families.
Canada has long been committed to protecting civilians against the indiscriminate effects of explosive remnants of war. As such, Canada actively participated in the effort to rid the world of these weapons and signed the resulting Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008.
The proposed prohibiting cluster munitions act reflects the negotiated compromise that was achieved in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The government believes that the convention strikes the right balance between humanitarian considerations and the need for states parties to protect their legitimate security and defence interests, which in Canada's case includes the need to interact militarily with other countries, including the United States, our closest military ally.
In these circumstances, Canada maintained this fine balance to preserve indispensable military co-operation while, at the same time, renouncing cluster munitions ourselves and furthering the broader goal of a global ban. Security requires military capacity, but it also requires respect for national differences. We will engage in advocacy, but, ultimately, we must respect the sovereign choices of our allies just as we expect them to respect our own choices.
Canada is not alone in the position we are taking. Other countries also seek an end to the use of cluster munitions and want to join the convention, but need to maintain military co-operation so as to safeguard their security. That is why convention negotiations reached the compromise contained in article 21 of the treaty, which allows states parties to conduct military co-operation and operations with states not party. This article and its application are important for the universalization of the treaty and the norms it establishes. Article 21 makes possible a larger membership in the convention, which, in turn, will generate greater momentum toward the eventual complete elimination of cluster munitions.
The implementing legislation we are debating today, if enacted, would allow Canada to ratify and fully implement its obligations under the convention. It would allow us to do this without refusing to co-operate with our closest friends and allies and without sacrificing our own security interests. Ridding the world of cluster munitions is a policy that everyone can agree on and I hope that all members will join us in supporting it.
The convention prohibits Canada from engaging in activities that would involve cluster munitions, subject to exceptions for military co-operation and other permitted activities, such as research for defence and clearance purposes. That is a legal obligation on Canada, which we take on when we ratify and which does not require legislation. What the proposed legislation before us does is extend a parallel set of prohibitions and limitations into Canadian domestic law.
The convention prohibits Canada from the use, development, making, acquisition, possession, foreign movement, import and export of cluster munitions and the bill before us today would create parallel offences for people subject to Canadian law. The bill would also extend the criminal prohibitions on aiding, abetting, counselling and attempting or conspiring to commit a prohibited activity. These provisions are important as a means of ensuring that nobody in Canada can take any role in any prohibited activity, even if the actual activity happens in another country which has not made it illegal.
The language of the bill does not copy exactly the language of the convention. Instead, the bill has been drafted in a form that ensures that Canadian courts will apply the offences in a manner consistent with international obligations on Canada itself. For example, the offence of possession includes not only what the convention calls stockpiling, but also the possession of even a single munition or submunition.
Hon. members should take note that the offences delineated in the bill are broad and exclusions from them are narrow. They have been strictly limited so they can only apply to persons who are engaged in activities related to military co-operation and operations involving the government, only when the activity in question is part of a permitted form of military co-operation and only when the other country involved is not a party to the convention. This is very important because it means that the other countries gradually accede to the convention and denounce these munitions, the legal exclusions permitted by the bill become progressively narrower.
The offences and exclusions also reflect the fact that the Canadian Armed Forces, which are now of the Canadian state and therefore fully subject to the treaty, cannot use cluster munitions. To give added assurances, the government agreed to amend the bill to prohibit the direct use of cluster munitions by Canadian Armed Forces personnel when on exchange or secondment with states not party to the convention. This amendment would ensure what the Government had intended all along, and which a Canadian Armed Forces order will reinforce, that members of the Canadian Armed Forces will never directly use cluster munitions at any time, even when they are on exchange with a non-state party's military unit.
If the Canadian Armed Forces are in exclusive control of the choice of munitions to be used, they are also prohibited from even requesting their use. However, if the choice of munitions used is under the control of another country, then the personnel involved will not be subject to prosecution for doing so. For example, a Canadian soldier who is under fire is allowed to call upon an ally for support and can ask for help even with the knowledge that the ally will or might choose cluster munitions, without any fear of being accused of and prosecuted for this criminal offence.
It is important to highlight that these exceptions apply only to the specific offences established by the bill and not any other crimes against Canadian or international law. Under international law, the indiscriminate or disproportionate use of any weapon is a war crime, whether the weapon is a cluster munition or not, and nothing in the proposed legislation changes this. Other applicable international legal obligations remain fully in force for Canada, as they do for any other states with which we would conduct combined operations.
Once the bill is enacted, Canada will be able to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions and take its full place among the states opposed to the use of these weapons. Even prior to the introduction of the bill, we began fulfilling the provisions of the convention. The Department of National Defence took cluster munitions out of active service some time ago. Some have already been destroyed, and the rest are in the process of being destroyed, as required by the Convention.
Furthermore, we are fulfilling our co-operation and assistance obligation on an ongoing basis. Since 2006, Canada has contributed more than $215 million to mine action projects that address the impact of explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions. With respect to cluster munitions more specifically, Canada has provided funding to Laos and Lebanon for risk education and cluster munitions clearance activities, as well as to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Palau, and South Sudan for clearance activities. In November of last year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced $10 million over the next 18 months to continue Canada's proud tradition of support to demining efforts, victim assistance, and risk awareness programs.
These measures taken outside the framework of the bill we are considering today and were taken before we ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions demonstrates our commitment to the goals of the convention and its full implementation.
In order for this treaty to be effective in the long run, it will be important for as many countries as possible to sign on to it. Ideally, if all countries were to join the treaty, cluster munitions could be completely eliminated around the world. Unfortunately, in the short term that is not likely to happen. Indeed, some countries will need a lot of encouragement to join. It is therefore important for countries like Canada, as well as those friends and allies who share our belief in the goals of this treaty, to encourage those countries that have not yet done so to sign and ratify this treaty as soon as possible. We are working hard to do so.
I hope that all members of the House share with me the hope that Canada will ratify this treaty soon. I therefore urge all members of the House to support this bill.