Mr. Speaker, like other members of the NDP, I am rising to speak in opposition to Bill C-6, An Act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
I want to start with a quote of Paul Hannon from Mines Action Canada. He said:
Canada should have the best domestic legislation in the world. We need to make it clear that no Canadian will ever be involved with this weapon again but from our reading this legislation falls well short of those standards.
I think this is an important place to begin the 20 minutes I have to speak on the bill.
As a number of my colleagues pointed out, there was a time when Canada could hold its head high on the world stage for the work it had done in many areas of international relations. Certainly, when we come to things like a number of declarations, Canada has had key roles to play. However, Canada has fallen far short.
I want to give an example of how we as parliamentarians can work and have worked together before I talk about what is wrong with the bill.
As a parliamentarian, I am a proud member of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, or PNND. We had in the House and the Senate a motion passed that supported the Canadian Parliament taking very strong actions in calling for non-proliferation and disarmament. We have worked together across the aisle on that initiative. It is an example of where we can come together on points that we agree on.
What I have heard from members in the House to date on this particular issue is that we all agree that cluster munitions have terrible consequences for people in countries where these munitions have been used. We can all agree that we do not want to see children maimed and killed by these munitions. Therefore, it is troubling that we have a piece of legislation that simply does not go far enough.
I want to point to the Cluster Munition Coalition. This bill was reintroduced after it had been here in another form but lost due to prorogation. However, the Cluster Munition Coalition issued a news release on October 29, 2013 entitled, “Different Name, Same Deadly Consequences”. In the release it says the following:
The bill, that should enact the Convention on Cluster Munitions in the country, proposes legislation that is not only against the spirit and the intent of the Convention, but would also put the lives of civilians at severe risk during and after armed conflicts. While the Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions in all possible forms, Bill C-6 includes a clause (Section 11) which would enable Canada to request other countries to use cluster munitions in the course of joint military operations, and in certain cases enables Canadians to use these outlawed weapons themselves.
I believe there has been an amendment that did change that last piece, but the bill would still allow Canada to work with countries who continue to use cluster munitions.
The article continues:
The Cluster Munition Coalition believes no explanation of the contested clause is plausible.... Only by closing the dangerous loopholes can Canada really claim to be banning cluster munitions and putting the protection of civilians first.
I will quote other sources on the impact of these munitions and why they are so dangerous. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway has put out a release entitled, “Cluster munitions—a humanitarian problem”. It states:
Cluster munitions are a large, and growing, problem. If their use continues to spread, and the number of those using them continues to grow, they may become an even greater humanitarian and development challenge than anti-personnel mines were in the 1990s.
Attention is now being focused on cluster munitions, a general term for a variety of weapons that disperse a large number (anywhere from 10 to several hundred) of submunitions, or bomblets, over a target area. The submunitions are placed in a container that can be dropped from aircraft or delivered by means of artillery shells or missiles. The submunitions, which are designed to explode on impact, are released from the container some distance above the target area, and are armed as they fall.
They go on to talk about the fact that over the last years, they have clearly demonstrated the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of this weapon. They go on to say:
There are two main causes of this.
First, cluster munitions cover large areas, and so do not discriminate sufficiently between civilians and military personnel. Depending on the type of cluster munition, the size of the area they cover ranges from a few hundred square metres to about 20 hectares, equivalent to 40 football fields. In many cases where cluster munitions have been used extensively, they have been used in areas where there is no clear separation of civilians and military personnel, such as cities and agricultural areas. When used in such areas, weapons that cover large surface areas with explosives almost invariably affect civilians.
Second, cluster munitions often produce a large number of ‘duds’, i.e. submunitions that have failed to explode as intended. These highly unstable explosive devices remain lying on the ground, on roofs or in collapsed houses, or are caught in trees. In practice, duds have the same effect as anti-personnel mines, injuring or killing innocent civilians, for example when they are rebuilding destroyed houses or resuming vital agricultural activities.
Because the proportion of duds is generally high—25% is not unusual—and because these weapons are often employed in large numbers, the number of duds can be extremely high. Civilians can continue to suffer casualties and injuries years after a war has ended.
Efforts to clear areas of duds and to assist victims are often extremely resource-intensive. Poor countries with limited resources can only focus on these efforts at the expense of other development aims. According to the Landmine Monitor, the international community provides about USD 400 million per year to assist affected communities in clearing munitions....
Any future proliferation of cluster munitions would greatly increase the need for assistance from the international community. Not only would the humanitarian costs be unacceptable, but a heavy economic burden would fall on affected countries.
Members can see that these are extremely dangerous weapons. They are largely impacting civilians, and many of those are children. It seems unconscionable that all governments, particularly our own government, would not do everything in its power to make sure that the use of these munitions becomes something of the past, and that we would also do everything in our power to contribute the dollars we can to help countries clear these munitions.
The Cluster Munition Coalition provides a bit of background on the convention and says:
The central provision of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is the ban on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. This makes it illegal in every country that joins the Convention for anyone to use cluster munitions or engage in any production or trade of the weapon. Other weapons that have been banned in this way include antipersonnel landmines as well as biological and chemical weapons.
The ban also extends to any activity that would assist other countries in the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of cluster munitions. This means that if a country, for example the UK, has joined the treaty banning cluster munitions and takes part in a joint military operation with another country that has not, for example the US, then UK troops must not intentionally do anything that would in any way assist in the use of these weapons during that operation.
They go on to talk about the Oslo process, launched by Norway in 2007 to work with like-minded states on a ban. At that time:
The Convention, signed by 94 states when it opened for signature in Oslo, Norway on 3 December 2008, is an historic achievement. The strength of the treaty is largely due to the prohibition on cluster munitions as an entire category of weapons. The negotiators rejected proposals for broad exceptions from the ban and for a transition period during which cluster munitions could still be used. The obligations relating to victim assistance are ground-breaking; they demand the full realisation of the rights of people affected by cluster munitions and require states to implement effective victim assistance measures. The Convention’s comprehensive ban has contributed to the increasingly powerful international stigma against cluster munitions, making it clear to the world that no actor, including those states that have not yet joined the Convention, should ever use cluster munitions again.
I want to touch briefly on a couple of clauses in the convention itself. A document from March 28, 2014 says the following about the convention:
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions is a legally binding international treaty that comprehensively prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years, and clearance of contaminated land within 10 years. It recognizes the rights of individuals and communities affected by the weapon and requires states to provide assistance. The Convention also obliges countries to assist affected states to fulfill their obligations....
As of 13 September 2013, a total of 113 governments had joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions including stockpilers, former users and producers of the weapon as well as the majority of affected countries.
As members have noted, Canada has signed onto the convention, but we are dealing with the process of ratification at this point.
Article 1 of the convention on general obligations and scope of application says that the production, stockpiling, use and transfer of cluster munitions are prohibited in all circumstances, including in international conflicts and conflicts of a non-international nature. It is also prohibited to assist, encourage, or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited by the convention.
I am not going to go through every article, but there are a couple that I do want to mention.
One of the other pieces that many people have spoken about is important to acknowledge. There is a victim assistance clause under article 5 of the convention, which adopts a holistic view of victim assistance by requiring state parties to ensure that victims of cluster munitions can enjoy their human rights. It notes that state parties are obliged to provide assistance to cluster munition victims, including medical care, rehabilitation, and psychological support, and to assist their social and economic inclusion. Cluster munition victims include all persons directly impacted by cluster munitions, as well as their affected families and communities. It continues that state parties must develop a national action plan to implement victim assistance activities and to designate a national focal point within their government for coordinating all matters related to the article. The article further stipulates that in their work on victim assistance, state parties must consult with and involve cluster munition victims and organizations working on this issue. Furthermore, state parties should integrate victim assistance work into existing mechanisms to make it more cost efficient and effective.
Another article I want to mention is article 21. It is a somewhat unfortunate article that Canada worked to have included, one that allows for continued military interoperability. In it, state parties are required to promote universalization of the convention to notify states not party to the convention of their treaty obligations and to discourage states not party to the convention from using cluster munitions. Moreover, state parties may engage in military co-operation and operations with states not party to the convention that might engage in prohibited activities, but must still respect their article 1 duty to never assist anyone with any prohibited act.
It is troubling that Canada worked to have this included in the convention. We hoped that Canada would work hard to convince every country with whom we have co-operative relationships to ratify the convention. They would sign the convention and then ratify the convention domestically. That would be a much preferable role for Canada to play on the international stage.
I want to touch for a moment on a story from a woman who removes cluster munitions in her home country. This article from the The Guardian of August 2011 is as relevant today as the day it was written. The headline reads, “'I feel like I've saved a life': the women clearing Lebanon of cluster bombs”. The sub-heading reads, “An all-female team is doing the hazardous and painstaking work of removing unexploded...ordnance from the 2006 war”. It states:
Cluster bombs burst open in mid-air and release bomblets that are supposed to detonate on impact, but many of the ones fired on Lebanon did not explode, lying on the ground instead like landmines with the potential to blow up at any time. The women's team works in tandem with other teams of searchers, all co-ordinated by the Lebanese army, to clear up the unexploded ordnance that still litters the countryside.
The woman in the story says:
Women are more patient than men. That is why we are good at this job. We work more slowly and maybe we are a little more afraid than men. Whatever the sex of those searching the undergrowth, the risks are still the same. One careless move, and they could lose a leg. The previous day, a searcher in another mining team was injured, reminding everyone of the dangers of the job. Everyone has their blood type embroidered on their vest for good reason.
Can anyone imagine doing a job where, when people go to work, they have their blood type on their shirt or vest so that if something blows up or they are injured in some way on that job, they can be automatically blood-typed so they can get immediate assistance? Imagine working in those kinds of circumstances.
The woman goes on to say:
“My kids always worry about me, especially yesterday when they heard about the accident”, says Abeer .Asaad, team member and mother to five daughters. “They asked me to quit my job yesterday, they were so scared.
“I was unemployed when I heard that NPA was recruiting wormen for a de-mining team and I applied without telling anyone, not even my husband. When he found out he didn't want me to do it. I was scared too. Just hearing the word 'bomb' would make you scared. But when I began to work it was different, especially when you are careful all the time and follow the rules. You need to be alert and focused when you are in the field, and you must check the ground slowly”.
Zein too says her family have come to accept her job after four years in the field. "I was an English teacher for eight years. I wanted a change, and this could not be more different than teaching”.
“Of course, my family was worried but now they ask me everyday how many clusters I found, how many I destroyed”.
She is the only woman in the country to be trained in explosives demolition and at the end of the day detonates the bomblets they find. “I am so happy when we find them and I can carry out what I have been trained for”.
In the story she says that when she does it, she feels like she has saved a life or she has saved a child from a maiming that would alter his or her life in a way that we cannot even imagine.
Later in the story, the author talks about a case of how random and how accidental this can be:
It was a year after the war that Rasha Zayyoun joined the list of casualties. Life had been returning to normal for the then 17-year-old and her family after the devastation of the previous summer. Her father brought home a bushel of thyme he had harvested for Rasha to clean, but neither of them noticed a bomblet hidden among the leaves. As she began work her finger got caught on the device and thinking it was a piece of rubbish, she threw It aside. As it hit the ground it exploded. Rasha lost her left leg below the knee.
“It was so painful. It was like torture”, she said at her family horne in the village of Maarakeh where she is trying to build a life for herself as a dressmaker. “I have a prosthetic leg now but l can only walk for a few minutes on it”.
Stories like Rasha's are what make Asaad sing and dance when she finds a bomblet.
“I feel like I have saved a life”, she beams. If I find a cluster and take it out, then there will be no victim from it. The feeling is beyond description”.
What we have are teams of men and women all over the world, taking their lives in their hands as they try to clear their countries of these extremely dangerous munitions. I reiterate that we only hope that Canada will play a role on the world stage where we would not have to have this debate because those munitions would not be used by any country in any circumstance.
I have another paper that is a pilot study on technical and non-technical considerations when developing and implementing new technology for the humanitarian mine action community. This is a very good article because it talks about the social, political, cultural and other economic influences on mine action operations. The article talks about the fact that it is not a simple matter to go into countries and remove these munitions, whether land mines or cluster munitions, and that there are numerous social, political and cultural factors that need to be included, like education levels which affect the productivity and ability to use high-tech equipment.
Culture affects the choices of the kinds of tools that can be used because in some countries dogs cannot be used because of some cultural factors. Biotechnology introduced for the purposes of mine action could disrupt the indigenous environmental balance. National governments' interference or support will impact productivity and clearance rates of the operation. There are many factors, and I have not had time to even begin to talk about the impacts on the economy.
When people know, for example, that farm fields have been infiltrated by cluster munitions, what does that do to the productivity of the men and women who have to go and work those fields? It is as simple as the story about picking a time and having their life changed as a result of that.
The NDP will be opposing the legislation. We hope there will be some room for further amendments.