Mr. Speaker, I have to confess that some of what I have heard tonight from the government during this debate makes me very uneasy. Here we are in the safety of Canada, talking about instruments of war, which quite simply are devastating. In some ways, the debate feels surreal.
As a nation, we took a position, in December 2008. We said, along with 113 other countries, that it was time to end the brutal legacy of cluster munitions and to launch a process to prohibit these weapons, to remove them from the face of the earth. They cause unacceptable harm to armed forces personnel and unspeakable harm to civilians. The reason I say this has to do with the impact of these weapons on human beings.
I began by saying how uneasy I felt and how surreal this discussion is, when it is academic, here in the safe comfort of this House, and when members of this House say we have to be prepared to accept the necessary evil of cluster munitions because our American allies have stockpiled them. However, before we rationalize the position taken by the Conservative government in Bill C-6, I think it is essential to understand what cluster munitions are and what they do.
We are talking about an imprecise weapon that is designed to strike a greater surface area than many other conventional weapons by dispersing smaller but still very lethal submunitions. They are scattered around the ground, and these submunitions create an incredibly large footprint. Within that footprint, they kill and injure both military personnel and civilians.
Up to one quarter of these submunitions fail to explode on impact, but that does not make them any less dangerous. In Lebanon, during the 2006-07 conflict, there were at least 555 recorded cluster munitions casualties in Lebanon, of whom 122 were killed and 433 injured. Children made up 24% of the casualties, most of them young boys, and many of them under the age of 18.
These recorded totals do not include up to 175 unconfirmed cluster munition casualties during or shortly after the conflict. The unexploded ordinance continued to kill. For several months after the conflict, people could not go back into their homes because of these failed submunitions. They littered their homes and littered the area. In the longer term, a larger percent of casualties occurred to farmers while they were trying to farm, herd animals, or carry out other livelihood activities.
In addition to the loss of life and the economic damage, cluster munitions exact a high psychosocial and educational cost. Populations suffer psychological trauma long after the initial event.
However, Lebanon is not the only place where these weapons have been used. Cluster munitions are a worldwide generational problem. They have been used in 24 countries in areas, and their use is suspected in at least a dozen more. Cluster munitions have been deployed in Syria, Iraq, Israel, and are thought to have been used in Afghanistan.
Again, the victims are children who are playing outdoors, pedestrians walking down the street, workers pressing olive oil, and even families in their homes. These weapons kill indiscriminately. Casualties and deaths are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands since 2006. We also know that 22 Canadian Forces members were killed and 112 wounded, as a result of land mines, cluster bombs, and other explosive devices.
These are the weapons that pull human beings apart. In response to this, the Norwegian government invited 48 states, as well as the UN and civil society groups, to Oslo, to start a process towards an international ban. At the end of the meeting, 46 governments supported a declaration for a new international treaty, and a ban by 2008.
That declaration stated that a legally binding international instrument would be agreed upon by 2008, and it would “prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians”.
In 2008, Canada signed that convention, and the current government tabled that agreement in the House of Commons, in December 2012. That brings me to the debate tonight.
Canada, at this moment, has the opportunity to show leadership on the world stage by showing a real commitment to the Oslo Convention. Unfortunately, the sticking point revolves around clause 11 of Bill C-6. This clause relates to the issue of interoperability which, as part of the original convention, allows countries like Canada that do not manufacture, stockpile, or use cluster munitions to be in a theatre of war with nations that have not signed the convention, such as China, Russia, and the United States.
Unfortunately, Bill C-6 goes beyond even the interoperability allowed in the convention. Clause 11 establishes an extremely broad list of exceptions. The fear expressed by some who opposed the language in clause 11 was that this article permits direct complicity in the use of banned weapons. Imagine Canada being complicit in the use of banned weapons?
In other words, clause 11 allows Canadian Armed Forces to be in a theatre where cluster munitions are used. That goes against what we did in the landmines treaty. If we were in the theatre with any country that had not signed on to the Ottawa treaty, we would not be in joint operations with them while they were using those particular armaments.
The bill before us is void in that respect. There is a loophole, which basically says that we can be in joint operations in the theatre where one of our allies is using these munitions. This works against the whole notion and spirit of the convention.
As my colleagues on this side of the House have indicated, experts have expressed reservations. On the other side, members are not hearing; they are not listening. They are not, for all intents and purposes, even participating, except for the odd heckle and outburst.
On this side of the House, we have listened to the experts who have reservations. Dr. Walter Dorn, of the Royal Military College, said:
Who would want Canadians to use cluster munitions, aid and abet, direct or request their use, or conspire with another person to use these indiscriminate weapons? Yet this wording is in the legislation itself to allow the so-called cooperation with a non-party, which we know to be aimed at the possible cooperation with the United States.
As I said, it is against the spirit of the treaty and the letter of the treaty.
Dr. Marc Drolet, of Handicap International, said:
Bill C-6 should be strengthened to ensure that everything possible is done to promote the spirit and achieve the purpose of the Oslo Convention. [...] As currently drafted, the bill could, paradoxically, very well contribute to the continued use of cluster munitions rather than their elimination as intended.
As I said at the outset, cluster munitions are weapons that are designed to tear human beings apart. This Conservative legislation to implement the convention on cluster munitions is widely recognized as the weakest and the worst in the world. It undermines everything that we should be standing to implement.
We are going to push the Conservatives to further amend Bill C-6 and ensure Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished by this weak legislation. Canadians should not ever be complicit in the continued use of these horrific weapons.
We are better than that. This nation is better than that. I implore the government to understand that Canadians want to be seen as those who understand the Oslo Convention, who understand that we have a place, a possibility, an obligation, to make this convention work. It will not be with Bill C-6 and clause 11, but here in this House, through listening and co-operation, we can do it.