Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to express a few thoughts on what the Government of Canada could have and maybe should have been doing to say to the rest of the world that Canada wants to play a strong leadership role in an area where there is a great deal of concern. That opportunity has been somewhat lost through the way the government has brought forward flawed legislation.
I approach the discussion as a member who served in the Canadian Forces. It was not necessarily through my direct service that I acquired experience. It was more from things that occurred indirectly. As members of the forces, we are quite often required to get out and meet with veterans. I served during the 1980s, when there were a significant number of World War II veterans. Some members might be aware that cluster bombs were first used in the Second World War. They were used by the Germans.
I have had many discussions with World War II veterans in my capacity as a member of the Canadian Forces. Unlike what we might see in movies that glamorize war to a certain degree, there are a great number of horror stories.
These are real people. We thank God for them, and we compliment them for their bravery and all the freedoms they have garnered for us. However, the war and its impact on the lives of those who directly fought in it is profound.
The types of weapons that were used will have had a significant impact on the veterans' views. We talked about D-Day. They were getting off landing craft and charging onto a beach with their brothers falling to their left and right as they ploughed their way through all sorts of war machinery and ammunition being aimed at them.
Something that can be gained by reflecting on our past actions and wars. Weapons have caused so much collateral damage that we would find that veterans and current members of the regular forces and the reserve forces would have strong opinions about the issue we are talking about this evening. I have often made reference to some of the horror stories that are out there. I can assure members that there is no lack of opinions among members of our forces.
I made the assertion that I believe that no member in the chamber is going to advocate the benefits of this type of weapon. It should never be glorified in any fashion whatsoever. We recognize the harm that has been done by this type of munition.
When I stand to speak to Bill C-6, a number of things come to my mind. The first is getting people to realize what cluster munitions are. A bomb can come from the ground or from a plane. In essence, it is a hollow shell that will open and within the cavity will be anywhere from a half-dozen up to 2,000-plus munitions that are designed to explode, but not necessarily once they hit the ground. There are all sorts of different types of cluster bombs. Sometimes a cluster bomb will release its contents and as it hits the ground, there will be a massive explosion that will cover the size of a football field. Anything within that perimeter will be virtually destroyed. That includes the loss of lives and limbs and horrendous destruction.
What we do not necessarily appreciate is that when those 2,000 little explosive devices hit the ground, a high percentage never explode. We are not talking about two or three or four; we are talking about hundreds. As some people have referenced, they are not necessarily obvious bombs that someone who is walking in a field would notice and know was a bomb.
Let us say that 2,000 are dropped. Some would estimate that as many as 400 to 600 would not be set off. Even after the war has come to an end, 400 to 600 little bombs from one cluster bomb could be waiting to be set off. That is why in countries where there are no active wars, there is still destruction and the loss of life and limbs. The bombs are still in the fields and have never been set off or found. It is a very costly venture, after a war, to identify the areas where there is a high concentration of cluster bombs and to send a workforce to clear the ground.
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we came up with the resources to send in massive numbers of well-protected people and machinery to identify and dispose of those hundreds of thousands of little bombs. We would not get all of them. Thousands would remain, even if we could get the money to do the clearing that many believe is absolutely essential. It is exceptionally costly, and in reality, for many of the countries that have this issue, they just do not have the resources to deal with it.
As a result, what ends up happening is that someone farming in a field or a child playing in a field will find a bomb that has not gone off. Then there is yet another horror story. We know that when they are set off from the ground or from an aircraft that the damage is indiscriminate. They do not discriminate between civilians and military personnel, or children and people in their thirties or well into their sixties. They affect everyone. In fact, during World War II, when the Germans first used cluster bombs, they were not designed to attack just the military. They were meant to cause damage to both the military and civilians, and they were exceptionally effective.
These bombs are designed to kill personnel and destroy vehicles. There is a high level of recognition around the world of how destructive these bombs can be. As a result, there was a Convention on Cluster Munitions. It took place in Ireland in 2008.
I have suggested that the Government of Canada had an opportunity to play a strong international leadership role on what is a very important issue. Unfortunately, it has fallen short in two ways. First, it has not approached this issue in a timely fashion. Remember, this agreement was signed back in 2008, and here we are in 2014. One could question why it took the government so long to bring forward this legislation.
Well over 100 states signed the cluster munitions convention. Approximately 80 of them, maybe a little more, have actually ratified it. Canada was one of the countries that signed, but we still have not ratified it. One would have thought that Canada was in a wonderful position to demonstrate that we understand the need to deal with the issue in a tangible way.
I have had the opportunity to raise this in some of the questions and answers. This is the second part that I am making reference to. That is the loss of opportunity to demonstrate international leadership. I made reference to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
The similarities are amazing in terms of how countries from around the world came together in 1997 and this took place here in Ottawa. It is known as the Ottawa treaty. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and someone I am very proud of, local Manitoba member of Parliament Lloyd Axworthy who was the minister of foreign affairs at the time, went out of their way trying to make something happen. It is interesting that shortly after that Mr. Axworthy was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his efforts.
In the late nineties, Canada was able to demonstrate very strong tangible leadership on this and it had an impact. Yes, there are some countries around the world that still have not signed on and ratified, or chosen not to be a part of it, but we did. I am not 100% sure of this, and I suspect if I am wrong my colleagues across the way and my friends in the NDP will quickly point it out, but I believe that there was likely unanimous support at the time here in the House for that. If I am wrong on that point I would ask that members raise the issue in the form of a question.
The difference is that members recognized back then the importance of the issue and how we were able to not only develop the issue and get countries around the world to sign on and ultimately ratify it, but we were also able to get the necessary legislative requirements in Ottawa to ratify it. I believe that all political parties supported it at the time of its passage.
Fast forward that to today. Where are we today? If the truth be known, this is not the first time we have had the bill here. We had the first reading of Bill S-10 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is not the first time we have had this legislation. I would like to think that had the government brought in the legislation and worked with the opposition, we would have been able to amend the bill before us this evening and it could have received the support of all political entities in the House. That is not going to happen because the government has chosen not to reflect what was ultimately wished for in the convention Canada signed on to in 2008.
I would challenge the government to recognize that we are still not too late, that with the right political will, we can make the changes that would in fact make Canada once again demonstrate good, solid, sound leadership. That is the challenge I would leave to the government.