Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this House and speak on Bill C-6, an act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
We debate a wide range of subjects in this House. They are all important, but some subjects are more serious than others and some have more implications than others. Some deal with policy that affects our lives, but once in a while an issue comes up that involves matters of life and death and invokes some of the most important considerations that a government and a deliberative body like this one can have. This is one such act.
This bill deals with the use of cluster munitions by states around the world. It is the position of the official opposition, the New Democrats, to oppose Bill C-6 in its current form on the grounds that it contradicts and undermines the very international treaty that it is supposed to implement. I would point out to Canadians watching that the New Democrats did what a good official opposition does; that is, we attempted to work with the government and, in a good faith attempt, to amend the bill at committee. However, the Conservatives only allowed one small change. As we will see later on, it is not a change that is sufficient to render an inherently flawed bill acceptable to us.
This Conservative legislation purports to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I will say that it is widely recognized as the weakest attempt to do so in the world. It undermines the very spirit of the treaty it is supposed to implement.
The NDP will continue to push the government to further amend Bill C-6 to try to ensure that Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished further by this weak legislation.
I will give a bit of background to detail exactly what we are talking about.
Cluster munitions are a weapon, an armament, that can release hundreds of explosives over a large area in a very short period of time. They have a devastating effect on the people in the area, mainly civilians. I will say right now that 98% of the casualties of cluster bombs around the world are innocent civilians.
These munitions often do not explode on impact and therefore can last many years after a conflict has ended. We have heard some testimony by members on all sides of the House that this is still a problem for countries such as Laos, where these weapons were dropped during the Vietnam war; some thousands of these munitions, unexploded ordnance, that are still in that country risk going off and harming and killing innocent men, women, and children today.
Canada participated actively in what was known as the Oslo process to produce a convention to ban the use of cluster munitions. The Oslo process came on the heels of the success of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines. These are important international initiatives that attempt to get worldwide consensus on an agreement to refuse to use certain weapons that are of particularly egregious effect. The U.S., China, and Russia did not participate in the process, and they continue to have stockpiles of cluster munitions to this day.
Despite strong opposition from the majority of states participating in the Oslo process and from many non-governmental organizations that have an interest in peace and in moving forward to a more civilized world, Canada succeeded in negotiating an article into the final text of the convention that explicitly allows for continued military interoperability with non-party states. That is article 21 of the treaty. In other words, Canada worked to allow and facilitate the continued use of cluster munitions by states that refused to participate in the process or sign the treaty, but limited that to the concept of interoperability, which essentially meant that a nation's military that was working in conjunction with an ally would not necessarily face criminal sanction under the treaty if its ally happened to use cluster munitions.
It was surprising and unacceptable to many countries in the world to see Canada urge the exception that would continue to allow the use of these devastatingly horrific weapons. The Minister of Foreign Affairs used the word “horrific” to describe these weapons, and properly so.
These weapons are often the size of batteries or small tennis balls, and they come, as the name would suggest, in clusters. When a cluster of these munitions explodes, many of these things are spread. Where they end up cannot be controlled. Often they exist for years unexploded until someone accidentally trips them, and then an innocent person is hurt.
After Canada, some years ago, negotiated that treaty, even with the narrow exception, the government then, as it was committed to do under that treaty, drafted the legislation that is before us in this chamber that is supposed to implement its obligations under the Oslo Treaty.
Bill C-6 now comes before us. When it came before us in its original draft form, inexplicably and completely unacceptably, the bill contained a number of widened exceptions that would continue to allow and facilitate the use of cluster munitions, directly contrary to the spirit and intent of the treaty Canada signed.
In its original form that the government drafted, it put in a clause, clause 11 of the bill, that would permit Canadian soldiers to use cluster munitions, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that was not a member of the convention. It would also allow Canadian military personnel to request the use of cluster munitions by another country. That is shocking.
After sitting in an international arena to negotiate the end of the use of these munitions, and even though Canada, incorrectly, I think, advocated at that treaty table that there be a limited exception, the interoperability concept, the legislation the Conservatives drafted and brought before the House widened those exceptions, which effectively gutted the intent of the bill.
At the foreign affairs committee, New Democrats, led by our foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, supported by Canadian and international civil society groups, pushed for changes to the bill. We engaged closely with the government in public and through direct dialogue to encourage improvements to this legislation, and we were successful to a limited extent. We were successful in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers.
The bill comes before us with that one improvement, but it would still permit Canadian soldiers and military to request the use of cluster munitions by another country, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions when they are acting in concert with another country.
Unfortunately, these loopholes are rightly attracting the criticism not only of Canadians but of the world. Without amendments to rectify these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions will be superficial at best. Indeed, many suggest that Bill C-6 would even damage the convention as a whole by establishing an international precedent for opt-outs and exemptions.
As it currently stands, Canada's legislation has been called the weakest of all countries in the world to have ratified this convention, and that is no small feat, because 113 countries have signed the convention and 84 have ratified it, and of those countries, Canada has the weakest legislation.
I am going to ask the indulgence of my colleagues for a minute. In six years, almost, in the House, I have yet to mention a very special person in my life, and that is my mother, Renee Marlene Davies. She is a very lovely and talented woman. She is hard working. She is loyal. She is a fantastic mother. I mention her because this debate made me think of her for two reasons. First, she was born on December 7, 1941. That is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. It was a surprise attack. It was unprovoked. It shocked the United States. In fact, it shocked the world. That war was ended in the Japanese theatre some four years later by the dropping of two horrific weapons of mass destruction, atomic bombs.
The issues of the eradication and control of nuclear weapons continue to this day, and the government has continued that process. I understand that the government has completely boycotted and sanctioned Iran. It has closed our embassy even because of its view that Iran's development of nuclear processes threaten international security. I think that, not quite to the same degree but similar in kind, so do cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs threaten international peace and security in a different way, perhaps not in such a dramatic profound way, but when we have thousands of people around the world killed by cluster bombs, people who have nothing to do with the conflict, that is mass killing of innocent people and is something that should shock the conscience of all right-thinking people.
The second reason article 11 made me think of my mother is because she would never countenance me using dangerous or illegal products, or allow me to hold a product for a friend of mine, transport it for a friend of mine, or to request a friend of mine to use it, which is what this is. None of us would permit, as a logical exercise, a state of affairs where we would say that something is so dangerous and horrific that we will not use it, but we will certainly hold it, transport it or ask someone else to use it if they really want to. That is aiding and abetting.
I know the Prime Minister and the government have often stated that they want Canada's foreign policy to be one of principle. They want our foreign policy to be one that is not subject to the vagaries of relative arguments or of relative shifting of values or morals. They want to take the right position, and it does not matter what other countries think.
Why is that perspective absent here? Why does the government not say that it will not compromise its strict and absolute commitment to the eradication of a weapon that has no place in a civilized world? These weapons have no place in modern warfare at all, and the government should say that it will not consider views otherwise from anybody, friend or foe alike.
Why have the Conservatives gotten relative here? Is it because they will not use it, but their friends use it, they cannot really stop them, so they will just have to get along with that? This is contrary to the principled assertion the government claims to follow.
The government's approach to the Cluster Munitions Convention fits into a broader pattern of weakness on arms control, and I do not think that affects just our government, but it affects many countries in the world. The government has refused to join all of our NATO allies in signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty and it has loosened restrictions on arms exports.
The New Democrats, for our part, fully supported the creation of a treaty to ban cluster munitions. We fully believe that Canada should take a leadership role on the world stage and say that under no circumstances should these weapons be used and we will not be part of it in any fashion whatsoever. We will not have our military work with another military that uses them, end of story. That is a principled approach to the use of what has been described as horrific weapons of war, which do not kill soldiers, they kill civilians.
The bill would undermine the convention rather than implement it. Therefore, we are opposed to the bill as presented. We will continue to urge the government to make the kind of changes that I would like to think the Conservatives want to make.
I have heard members opposite talk about their commitment to ending the use of these weapons. They have described, in very accurate detail, the devastating impact of these weapons. They know that these weapons have no place in the modern world and should not be used by any country of good conscience. However, we know that Israel, the United States, China and Russia use them.
There are validators of our position, such as Earl Turcotte, the former senior coordinator for Mine Action at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He was the head of the Canadian delegation to negotiate this convention. He also negotiated the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as the Ottawa convention. Mr. Turcotte resigned as a result of Canada attempting to implement this weak legislation.
Mr. Turcotte is active in advocating for stronger legislation. This is coming from someone who I think has the most credibility of anybody, perhaps, in the country on this subject. He said:
...the proposed...legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention [on cluster munitions] to date.
It fails to fulfill Canada's obligations under international humanitarian law; it fails to protect vulnerable civilians in war-ravaged countries around the world; it betrays the trust of sister states who negotiated this treaty in good faith, and it fails Canadians who expect far better from our nation.
Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada, said this:
Canada should have the best domestic legislation in the world [not the worst]. 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.
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser said this:
It is a pity the current Canadian government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.
I will pause there for a moment. Canadians have always been proud of Canada's historic position on the world stage, where we have been respected by countries around the world as a country of balance, a country of moderation, a country of peacemaking, a country of peacekeeping, a country that is respected around the world as an honest broker. Yet we have people no less than former prime ministers of other Commonwealth countries like Australia saying that our approach now is timid, inadequate, and regressive.
I would venture to say that the Canadians I talk to, and I would dare say the majority of Canadians, want to see Canadian reassert our historic role on the world stage where we are respected for our fairness, where we are admired for our ability to bring peace, good sense, and responsibility to situations of conflict. We are a middle power, and that is a position on the world stage that we have historically occupied.
Instead, under the government, we are turning into a country that is associated with aggression, violence, and lack of international commitment—for example, the government withdrawing from Kyoto, the only international treaty on climate change. Our lack of standing in this world is demonstrated by a number of objective facts. For the first time in history, Canada did not get our turn at the UN Security Council and in fact had to withdraw our application because we knew Canada would suffer an embarrassing defeat by the United Nations, the other nations of the world.
As I have already said, 98% of all cluster munitions casualties have been civilians. One cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets and typically scatters them over an area the size two to four football fields. Up to 37 countries and territories have been affected by cluster munitions use in armed conflict, 19 countries have used cluster munitions in combat, and 34 countries have at one point produced the weapons. Half of those have since ended production, some as a result of the convention.
While Canada has never used or produced cluster munitions, and I think that is a testament to our international position that I just described, the global stockpile of cluster bombs totals approximately four billion, with a quarter of those in U.S. hands.
I would end by saying that I would urge the government to work with its closest allies, United States and Israel, and use our influence to urge them to sign this treaty and urge them not to use these weapons, so that Canadians can once again reassert our respected, peaceful, and responsible position on the world stage, as Canadians want.